We have been exploring a number of different types of renewable energy generation and storage solutions which we hope will help us to overcome one of the biggest challenges to running a network – power supply.

Without power the network doesn’t operate and, in a country the size of Australia, with all its climatic variability, maintaining a constant and reliable power supply remains a perpetual battle.

About a year ago, we installed a solar fuel cell system to provide back-up power to a small exchange, approximately 90km east of Melbourne. Despite being fairly close to Melbourne, this system is in a fairly isolated locality bordering the Yarra Ranges National Park.

What makes our solar fuel cell unique is the fact that the hydrogen (fuel) is being generated from the onsite water using renewable energy (solar). The accumulated hydrogen is then stored and used to generate electricity whenever it is needed. The system currently has the capacity to supply power for up to eight hours.

Over the past six months, the fuel cell has been called upon six times to provide back-up power. These mains power outages have range from as short as 12 minutes to over seven hours. Each time the fuel cell has cut in to seamlessly keep our customers connected.

By working closely with our suppliers Sefca and Acta, we were able to influence the design of a fuel cell that would best meet the energy needs of our network and then provide them with the right location to run a series of in-production trials.

This achieved a world-first in terms of the way that hydrogen is generated from water and then stored on site. It came about due to the close collaboration between the three companies.

We’re proud to say that as a result of this relationship, Sefca and Acta have gone on to produce a number of other solar fuel cell units for other Telcos around the world.

While we will be looking to deploy additional solar fuel cells to provide back-up power at other networks sites around the country, we’ll also continue our research into alternative renewable energy production and storage technologies.

Find out more about our commitment to environmental sustainability. You can also download a copy of our Environment Strategy, or read our full Bigger Picture 2014 Sustainability Report.

Fuel cells use an electrochemical process to combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity, water, and heat. Unlike batteries, fuel cells continuously generate electricity, as long as a source of fuel is supplied. Fuel cells do not burn fuel, making the process quiet, pollution-free and two to three times more efficient than combustion.