back to article Nokia brainwave turns cell towers into cash cows with backup batteries

Nokia is tempting mobile network operators with a tool that it thinks will help them monetize the backup battery storage at their cell base station sites. The telecoms infrastructure giant says the tool can switch cell base stations from grid power to backup batteries at times of peak demand to lower energy costs. …

  1. PB90210 Bronze badge

    I would have thought most telco sites are only going to have a couple of hours of battery to tide them over in case the diesel gen dies

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      These are cell towers. They won't have diesel generators as a battery would be sufficient to power them for the required time. But if they could make money this way they could slot in a bigger battery than they'd otherwise use, and that excess (and then some) would be paid for by selling that extra power at premium rates to the utility during peak alerts (while keeping enough power in reserve to meet whatever runtime target they have)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        " (while keeping enough power in reserve to meet whatever runtime target they have)"

        I think we'd need to enact some stronger laws with serious financial penalties to deter the bean counters from extending the revenue generation opportunists to the max. We all know about feature creep!

        1. DS999 Silver badge

          Unless the towers are part of the public safety network (for which AT&T has the contract in the US) I don't think there is a law requiring they have any protection against power loss.

          1. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

            There is a law requiring that they report outages that affect a certain amount of people, and the FCC can and will fine a telecom over a preventable outage. And, a single power outage could potentially affect dozens if not hundreds of towers.

  2. Don Bannister

    Sods Law

    will dictate the mains failure will occur just after you've run the batteries down to export power at a good price ....

    1. Bilby

      Re: Sods Law

      Basic arithmetic tells you that as the system tends towards load shedding (ie power cuts), the spot price rises, making it very desirable to the beancounters to run the batteries down.

      When it happens, there will be surprised faces all around - but there really shouldn't be, as it's entirely predictable.

  3. pdh

    Doesn't sound right

    For this to work, the battery capacity has to be larger than what the tower really needs for backup purposes, so the operator can afford to sell excess power back to the grid or to run from the batteries down when power is expensive. If I was the tower operator, I might be wondering why I was sold such an oversized battery in the first place. I might prefer to pay less for a smaller battery that can simply act as a traditional backup.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Doesn't sound right

      Not really. I have a ton of capacity in the UPS on my PC here that just about never gets used, but when I need it, then I usually need most of it.

      Also, it does a battery good to discharge it occasionally and not be continuously charging it. That's what kills most folk's laptop batteries.

      1. rcxb Silver badge

        Re: Doesn't sound right

        it does a battery good to discharge it occasionally

        Not true of most battery chemistries.

        and not be continuously charging it.

        You can avoid overcharging batteries, without resorting to discharging them. It's common for smaller UPSes to be that stupid and just constantly float charge, but any large battery installations will have more intelligent charging circuitry.

    2. cyberdemon Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Doesn't sound right

      Possibly this system doesn't export energy per se, but any powerful (in terms of MW, not MWh) backup battery -could- play the Balancing Mechanism / Capacity Market by disconnecting and dropping to UPS/diesel whenever paid to do so by the grid operator.

      But they don't have to actually do anything in order to get paid, they just have to have a large enough installation that National Grid et al will pay them annually for the privelege of being able to tell them to disconnect X megawatts, thus letting themselves tell the government and the people that they are improving grid resilience etc.

      It could well be that they are inflating the figures by claiming to be able to disconnect a megawatt or so, even though the actual equipment uses a variable amount of power and may only be using a few kilowatts at any given time ... That particular market doesn't seem to care about the actual energy saved, but is just an auction for people to sell "capacity" which they never intend to use.

      The trouble with the "smart grid" though IMO, is that it makes cyber warfare all the more possible.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Doesn't sound right

      Or the machine learning software takes the price for chance of failure of service and breaching compliance and regulatrion into account and weights it against potential profits?

  4. bronskimac

    Perhaps applicable to new installations or upgrades where extra battery capacity can be built in. I'm sure the bean counters will have paired battery capacity to a minimum in existing installations.

  5. Tron Silver badge

    This makes some sense, I guess.

    You are more likely to need your battery fully charged if something bad is in the offing - gales predicted, Russians massing by the border or Windows is going to update. Normal glitches (replacement fuse, vandalism) should be faster fixes. So they are charging up their battery when power is cheap and releasing some of it when power is expensive, assuming all is quiet. It's not as likely to go as wrong as some really crazy ideas like implementing GAI on mainstream operating systems, some of which run important processes, or connecting your basic utilities to the public internet and opening them up to ransomware attacks. You know, the really daft stuff you'd have to be a complete idiot to do.

    Probably best avoided in countries like Japan though, as quakes are unlikely to be predictable any time soon. In Japan, you keep your batteries charged and your emergency bag packed.

    1. Andy Non Silver badge

      Re: This makes some sense, I guess.

      "Japan".

      If memory serves, Fukushima had backup diesel generators to keep the cooling system going in the event of mains failure, however, the tsunami also knocked out the generators leaving only the battery backups, which only had one hour's worth of power stored in them. One hour later... the rest is history. Must be a lesson or two there somewhere.

      1. ChoHag Silver badge

        Re: This makes some sense, I guess.

        Yes, it's "if you over-engineer your backup and redundancy systems they can handle a shock orders of magnitude larger than they were designed for".

      2. Lars Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: This makes some sense, I guess.

        "Must be a lesson or two there somewhere."

        I would suggest "company greed" as they had been varned about not having enough outside electricity for an emergency but they decided not to do anything about it (yet).

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: This makes some sense, I guess.

        "Must be a lesson or two there somewhere."

        IIRC, the main lesson learned was don't put your generators where they can get flooded, especially if in an area subject to earthquakes and tsunamis.

        1. Bilby

          Re: This makes some sense, I guess.

          The main lesson learned should have been that nuclear meltdowns are expensive but not life-threatening, and we should all be far less worried about them as a result.

      4. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Re: This makes some sense, I guess.

        Don't put your generators in a hole in the ground when the ocean's right next door?

  6. david 12 Silver badge

    Peak power price

    We recently had wholesale power prices peaking at 50 times normal levels due to a system failure, which continue with a sustained blackout due to hard limits on power availability.

    At that price, it makes sense to switch to battery power, even for those stations that aren't blacked out. And it frees up power to go to people who don't have battery backups.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wonderful idea

    So why not let the electricity provider do it.

    Store excess power and feed it back on demand.

    Doesn't someone do that with a dam? Course they do it's sensible. Doesn't reduce any prices though.

  8. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Dear Nokia...

    ...How about you take this a step further and offer your own backup infrastructure out for rent to 3rd parties? You know, all those servers and hard disks just sitting there costing money in depreciation and maintenance that you don't actually need 100% of the time? I'm sure you could take a quick backup just in time before a fire or other disaster hits. After all, when did you last need to restore from backup? Once or less per year? Think how much extra profit you could make by just backing up once per year and letting other people use the space the rest of the time.

  9. David Pearce

    A lot of the cost of backup is the security guards you need to stop your batteries being stolen. This is a cost that doesn't go up as you add more batteries

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Share the power? Steady.

  11. Strangelove

    In the UK at least very few of the urban area mobile phone base stations have any battery at all - so if the are substation transformer fails, you cannot use your mobile to call it in. Once we have completed the transition to fibre based telephones, you probably won't be able to use a land line to call it in either, as the new IP based systems have no requirement for battery backup, while the old copper system where contractually obliged to.,

    However, if regulatory changes ever require back-up batteries I can see this being done to help fund it.

    Mike

  12. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

    What a neat idea!

    I can see it now, right about the time the backup batteries reach the bottom, the commercial power fails and now there's not enough juice left to turn on the lights, much less get a generator onsite. Telecom outages over a certain magnitude are also FCC reportable, and the FCC will be very happy to fine any telecom who caused an areawide outage by trying to save a buck on power costs by running the emergency backup system dry. One FCC fine can wipe out all the savings that might have been had.

    Worse than that, battery life is measured in both time and discharge cycles. Are they going to save more in electricity than it will cost to replace the batteries several years sooner?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Couple Chinese patent applications from 2018-2019 disclose such 'novel' service ideas. Just check e.g. the free patent search tool @ espacenet with search terms: "base station" backup power price. With high probability there'll be even earlier publications of similar innovations.

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