Intelligent Energy signs £1.2 billion contract for Indian telecommunications towers

Essential Energy, a subsidiary of fuel cell firm Intelligent Energy, has signed a £1.2 billion contract with India’s GTL Limited. The deal gives Intelligent responsibility for powering around 27,000 cell phone towers in GTL’s system.

In a nation that has leapfrogged traditional telecommunications infrastructure through cell phone technology, cell phone towers provide a much needed charging service for households lacking reliable electricity. However, two thirds of India’s towers experience power outages for approximately eight hours a day. Up until now, backup power has been provided by diesel generators, but at mass deployment levels this is a toxic and expensive option.

Enter Intelligent. Over ten years, Intelligent Energy plans to transition around 70%, or 19,000, of these diesel generators to hydrogen fuel cells. Intelligent’s CEO Henri Winand said,

“Using our technology, India can leapfrog into an information-driven future without assuming the costs and experiencing the difficulties of first implementing a conventional energy grid. This deal sets a significant precedent for shaping India’s energy future.”

It’s an ambitious project, that will require tight supply chains to get replaceable fuel cell cartridges everywhere they need to be. The deal potentially opens the way to a cleaner and more reliable energy supply, though questions of cost remain. Intelligent Energy will presumably be using its proton exchange membrane fuel cells that run on pure hydrogen. These offer very high power densities and a plug-and-play ease of deployment, but their need for pure hydrogen will limit options for alternative fuel sources. On the bright side, the deployment of fuel cell technology on this unprecedented scale will drive down Intelligent’s costs, and provide much needed data to an industry still spreading its wings.

The deal represents a major roll of the dice for Intelligent, which may have initially gone to market a little too ahead of the field. After a strong debut on the stock market in 2013, its shares have fallen in value by 2/3 and it suffered a £48 million revenue loss in 2014. A success on this scale, however, would quickly catapult the company to a world leading position.


File:Cell Phone Tower in Ladakh India with Buddhist Prayer Flags.jpg
A cell phone tower in Ladakh, India. Source: Stan Dalone.