Excess power from off-grid cellphone towers could be used to chill vaccines and water purification and save 5 million lives a year by 2015 This would be saving about 9% of the 54 million deaths that happen worldwide each year.
According to the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union, approximately 75 per cent of the world’s rural inhabitants are now covered by a cellular signal and close to 100 per cent will have coverage by 2015.
The industry trade association, GSMA, estimates that by 2012 there will be 639,000 off-grid cell towers in the developing world.
Cold-chain refrigerators require a minimum of 8 hours of electricity a day, and even the most energy-hungry models require no more than 2 kilowatts of power. Off-grid cell towers produce about 5 kilowatts of excess power on average, so this should be achievable with no negative impact on the cellphone network.
Network operators (through initiatives like the GSMA Community Power program) are already exploring ways of using their surplus tower power to charge mobile handsets, household batteries and rechargeable lanterns. They also recognise the potential for powering entire villages.
If cell towers can provide the energy for water purification and are then integrated with transportation projects, clean water could be made available to all rural locations in developing countries.