Cornell Research to Help Reduce Energy Consumption at Cell Sites

Student project becomes a Verizon Wireless test site for sustainable energy alternatives.

By on February 3, 2014

Equipment shelters at cell sites generate large amounts of heat and require constant cooling to ensure optimal performance of network equipment. This is typically accomplished with energy-intensive air conditioning units.

In a search for sustainable alternatives that may minimize environmental impacts while lowering energy costs, Verizon Wireless is working with Cornell University’s Energy Institute and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future to study the promise of geothermal heat pumps for cooling applications at cell sites. It’s an outgrowth of a 2010 Verizon Foundation initiative that supported Cornell engineering student projects on energy-saving solutions.

To understand the basic premise behind geothermal cooling, think of a cool cave in the summer heat.  Like the cave, the earth’s temperature beneath the surface remains warmer than air in winter and cooler than the air in summer. Geothermal cooling uses pumps to transfer heat from the building into cool underground wells, using much less energy than a traditional air conditioner that transfers the heat to the outside air. Geothermal systems are also highly reliable with long life expectancy and require minimal maintenance, further reducing operational costs.

Verizon Wireless built a new cell site on the Cornell campus with a geothermal system that will replace an existing traditional cell site air conditioning system. The system is designed and constructed with multiple well configurations and features so researchers can test which one is the most efficient. While there have been other cell sites built with geothermal cooling, this one is designed for detailed long-term analysis of temperatures, energy usage and environmental measures. The researchers will also test another way to save energy by using airside economizers that draw in outside air to cool the cell site equipment during Ithaca, N.Y.’s long cold season.

“The geothermal cell site study seeks to improve energy efficiency of cell sites while helping to advance the use of geothermal systems for cooling applications in general, with benefits that go beyond the wireless industry,” said Cornell’s Croll Professor of Sustainable Energy Systems, Jefferson Tester.

Developing more energy-efficient cell sites is one of the ways that Verizon Wireless is contributing to a more sustainable future. Other initiatives include LEED®- and Energy Star®-certified retail stores, solar powered cell sites, mobile device recycling and paperless billing programs as well as consumer products designed with the environment in mind.