[reuters] Wind turbine firm Zephyr is close to a deal with an Egyptian mobile firm to bolster network coverage for tourists, whose roaming rates offer a lucrative market, and trim remote area operating costs, executives said.
The privately owned Japan-based company, whose clients include Vodafone and Turkcell, hopes windswept areas along the Red Sea coast will help it enter a market for base stations in Egypt it sees worth about $200 million this year.
"The perfect situation is a remote rural site on top of a mountain overlooking the sea with great traffic underneath with incoming revenues," technical manager Jonas Mattesson told Reuters in an interview.
Zephyr extrapolated from talks with the three mobile operators -- Vodafone Egypt, Mobinil and Etisalat Egypt -- that 2,000 base stations will be built this year. It estimates sites cost an average $100,000 to set up.
"A portion of that, 10, 20, 30 percent could be green. It could be less, it could be much more," Zephyr's Europe, Middle East and Africa general manager Mats Vilander said in an interview. Of that slice, Zephyr hopes to grab 5 to 10 percent.
Egypt's Red Sea coast already boasts a number of wind power plants and more are planned, while mobile phone service is spotty in and around diving spots such as Hurghada and Ain Sukhna that draw millions of tourists each year.
Vilander said draughts along parts of the Red Sea coast move at an average speed of 10 metres per second, making the area attractive for wind turbine-powered base stations.
"It's a popular tourist area so you have a lot of roamers coming there and that is most beneficial," he added.
Solar energy still dominates the supply of renewable energy for mobile network infrastructure, but Zephyr is banking on a rise in wind power.
The company estimates 46 percent of the $277 billion global telecom infrastructure market will be "green" by 2013.
"This used to be a side solution," Vilander said. "It's now moved to the board level. It's a corporate governance issue."
Zephyr is also eyeing opportunities in Morocco, Yemen, Libya and Sudan.
Zephyr says its small wind turbines, at a cost of $25,000, can slash off-grid operating costs by aiding or replacing diesel as a power source for remote masts and base stations.
"If I can lower diesel costs by 50 percent on a yearly basis, I'll have it paid back in three years," Vilander said.
The firm expects to close a deal with an Egyptian operator within two months, Vilander said. He said it was too early to name the firm, but it was not Vodafone's Egypt unit. Zephyr worked with Vodafone on a two-turbine site in Valencia, Spain.
The other two operators in Egypt are a unit of Abu Dhabi-listed Etisalat and Mobinil, co-owned by Cairo-based Orascom Telecom and France Telecom.
Wind firm aims to power Egypt mobile network