Over the past 12 months, we’ve been assessing the latest in fuel cell technology at a number of mobile base stations and smaller exchanges sites around Australia. These fuel cells are part of an ongoing trial to find alternative energy solutions to power our network.

To date we’ve been using the fuel cells to supply back-up power in some of our rural or remote locations which are prone to mains power outages.

We’ve been quite excited about the results that we’ve been getting and are seeing some strong benefits of using fuel cells as a power solution for our network. These were nicely illustrated during a recent incident at one of our mobile base stations in Queenstown, Tasmania.

A lightning strike to the mobile base station’s AC rectifier meant the AC power couldn’t be converted to DC power to run our equipment – rather like damaging the power adapter to your laptop. So the back-up power supply had automatically kicked in to keep the base station running.

Normally, a base station in a residential location would use batteries rather than a diesel generator to supply back-up power. This is because a generator would be far too noisy for the people who live nearby. On average batteries will keep a base station running for about eight hours.

Fortunately, a fuel cell had been installed in this particular site as part of our alternative energy trial. This meant that we were able to keep the base station running for over two days – more than six times longer than a battery-based back- up system.

This was particularly advantageous to us as the AC rectifier couldn’t be fixed straight away and parts had to be brought in from another location. In a remote town like Queenstown this can mean a trip of 2-3 hours one way just to get to the depot.

As a result of these trials, fuel cells have now been included as a standard solution as backup power in our mobile base stations and smaller exchanges (where the power consumption is less than 5 kilowatts per hour). A small exchange would be like the one at McMahon’s Creek, Victoria which services the locality of approximately 280 people.

We see fuel cell technology as offering a number of advantages over the more traditional battery and diesel generators solutions. These include increased reliability across a wider range of operating conditions (both in extreme heat and cold), reduced maintenance costs, longer operating life as well as reduced size, weight, installation footprint (the amount of space they physically occupy), noise and environmental impact.

We will continue to explore alternative energy technologies not just as a temporary power solution but also for their potential to be the primary power source.

The new fuel cell technology in action!