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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Research project: PowerTower: Using Earth Observation Data to Optimise Cell Tower Placement and Power for Rural Communities

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Mobile phone cell towers are key enablers for access to data and telecommunication services. The cost of installation and operation of such towers is, however, a huge barrier to their large-scale deployment in developing countries. We aim to develop a novel Earth observation powered solutions to support large-scale cell tower project formulation, negotiation, and execution.

Star Date: 1/8/2019

End Date: 31/07/2020

A key cost to run Mobile phone cell towers is that of diesel, used to fuel backup generators in remote off-grid areas or in cities where power blackouts are common. Associated with such costs are the environmental and health implications of using diesel. Renewable energy-powered cell towers have, not been widely adopted either, due to the difficulty of assessing the financial viability of such facilities. Our goal is to design an energy service package for mobile tower operators that will allow them to switch from diesel to renewable energy sources to power their assets, while creating new services for local business operators. The project will use satellite imagery, environmental data, socio-demographic data, and historical weather forecast data to identify where it is most viable to deploy renewable energy-powered cell towers, and optimise the placement of solar and wind power. This is an innovation because current techniques used in the industry to identify the best locations for solar panels and cell towers do not work on realistic datasets and have been proven to be off by about 4-10% in many cases. We will use these as benchmarks and improve upon them by developing new machine learning algorithms and crowdsourced-mapping techniques. Building upon such innovations, other applications are expected to emerge.

Related research groups

Environmental Change and Sustainability (ECaS)
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