Mobile telecommunications operator MTN on Monday unveiled its R22-million, 2-MW trigeneration plant, which would power a new building housing a data centre and a test switch centre at its head office campus in Fairland, Johannesburg.
The trigeneration plant is powered by methane gas, which is piped over 800 km from Sasol's Mozambique gas fields to Egoli Gas in Johannesburg, and then to the company's office, MTN South Africa MD Karel Pienaar explained.
The JSE-listed company hopes to become energy independent at its head office, which consumes between 5,5-MW and 7,5-MW of electricity, as it adds additional phases onto the project. This would happen when MTN was able to procure more gas from the supplier.
MTN core implementation manager Willem Weber highlighted that the trigeneration plant at MTN was unique in that it not only generated electricity from the methane gas, but also used a by-product of the process for cooling purposes.
The 400 ºC exhaust gas is sent through lithium bromide absorption chillers to cool water, which MTN uses for the cooling needs in the building.
This meant that efficiencies of 85% were achieved.
The chilled water is supplied to the air-handling units, which supply the cooled air for electronic equipment in the new building, which housed the test switch centre on the ground floor and the data centre on the first floor.
The cooling of a data centre was said to be one of the most expensive components of its operation, with between 700 kW/m2 and 1 400 kW/m2 required for air-conditioning of the area.
This, coupled with electricity price increases, meant that MTN expected to get a return on investment within five years for the trigeneration plant.
MTN noted that it has been able to register the trigeneration plant project as a carbon credit project with the United Nations, which also assisted in offsetting the costs associated with purchasing the gas and the trigeneration plant.
The plant consisted of two 1-MW General Electric Jenbacher gas engines, and the absorption chillers were supplied by Carrier.
Weber and Pienaar stated that the plant design was done in-house, by an all-African team. The construction of the new building was done by level four broad based black economic empowerment company Qinisa construction, which was backed by a guarantee from the Industrial Development Corporation.
Pienaar emphasised that by putting in place this alternative energy supply, MTN ensured its security of supply, contributed less to the emission of greenhouse gases, and saved money because the power generated from the trigeneration plant was about half the price of power supplied by City Power.
MTN CEO Phuthuma Nhleko said that MTN's South African operations were situated in a maturing market, which necessitated innovative thought as the division sought ways to keep operating costs low, and improve margins.
He noted that MTN spent some $150-million a year in Nigeria on diesel alone, to power diesel generators. This amounted to about 6% of the division's operating expenditure.
"If we could start replicating this kind of initiative on a larger scale, we could truly achieve the triple bottom line savings," he said.
Deputy Minister of Communications Dina Pule was also at the launch of the power generation plant, and commended MTN on the project, stating that it was in line with the government's National Energy Efficiency Strategy, and the country's long-term mitigation scenario, which aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.
"The Department of Communications would like to see more investment by the ICT sector in the areas of research and development. These areas include positioning environmental friendly technologies into all sectors of our economy," Pule stated.