As the digital transformation continues with the expansion of 5G services across existing and developing markets, we’re facing an unprecedented challenge – how to reconcile the significantly increased energy demands of 5G networks with the environmental necessity of reducing CO2 emissions.
The introduction of power-hungry MIMO antennas, the need for additional equipment such as radio units, baseband and servers, the in-fill required due to small 5G cell size, OFDM data chopping and the explosion of internet connected devices all place a heavy energy burden on the shoulders of tower network providers. Some of this increase will be offset by changing usage behavior – such as more people working from home rather than commuting – but the consensus is that 5G is going to push energy tower consumption in the wrong direction, with some analysts claiming that “a 5G base station is generally expected to consume roughly three times as much power as a 4G base station”.
All this at a time when tower operators are striving to reduce their carbon footprint and meet the ambitious emission targets essential to prevent global warming.
The 2016 Paris Agreement – the most expansive legally binding international treaty since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 – lays out a road map for saving the planet. It posits that we can stabilize the climate if we completely decarbonize our energy sectors by the middle of the century. Although astonishingly bold, this is not an impossible target. The path to massive CO2 reductions lies in the use of renewable resources – if we can increase the world’s share of renewable energy sources sixfold by 2030, we can immediately halve global greenhouse gas emissions.
The use of renewable resources is now mainstream, and we can see significant progress in many places around the world. According to the CDP “Over 100 [global] cities now get at least 70% of their electricity from renewable sources; an additional 101 are 70% renewably powered and a further 22 are 50% renewably powered.”
This accelerating transformation is fueled (excuse the pun) in part by the rapidly falling costs of renewable energy, which in many parts of the world competes with fossil fuels without any financial support or government subsidies. As renewable resources make a genuine impact on corporate balance sheets, the decision to employ them becomes a much easier one to make.
The shift to using renewable resources is not without its challenges of course – especially when compared to the convenience and ease of fossil fuels. Power generation from natural sources can’t be controlled by humans for example – we can’t make the sun shine or the wind blow whenever we want. The quality of the power is usually inconsistent, and renewable resources are almost always dictated or limited by geographical location.
The key to overcoming many of these barriers is not technology associated with the renewable resource itself (e.g. the photovoltaic efficiency of a solar cell or the wind dynamics of a turbine) but the technology used to manage, store, redirect and prioritize the various power delivering elements of complex hybrid power systems. The telecommunications sector is a great example. We’re ripe for new technology that can bring our CO2 emissions plummeting in the next few years not simply by adopting more renewable resources, but by using the resources we already have more effectively.
Facing increased energy demands – not least from the roll-out of 5G – our industry’s implementation of renewable resources has increased admirably in recent years. But putting solar panels, wind turbines and battery storage into the mix simply isn’t enough to meet the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement, nor bring the real cost benefits of using renewable resources onto the balance sheets. What the industry is looking for now is technology that can integrate and coordinate all these renewable resources together – squeezing every drop of efficiency out of individual towers and interconnected networks so that emitting CO2 becomes the absolute last resort for power generation.
PowerX’s artificial intelligence systems sit on top of existing infrastructure and hybrid power systems – analyzing and learning from billions of data points across tower networks. At the microscale, they can look at individual towers and identify and maintain battery charges at optimum levels. They can pinpoint the most efficient moment to switch from grid to solar panels to generator to battery. They can identify hidden anomalies buried deep in the data and alert service engineers when components become compromised or inefficient. Aggregate all these data-driven discoveries together, and artificial intelligence tools decrease diesel consumption and CO2 emissions by 10-30% across a network. All these CO2 reductions are fully documented in detailed audits – available to engineers and COO’s at the touch of a button, helping you to hit corporate goals and meet regularity requirements.
If we’re to hit the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement and make genuine, widescale reductions in CO2 emissions, we need to start using innovative technology that goes beyond simply tapping into renewable resources. Artificial intelligence may be the key to unlocking the benefits of a carbon-free future, all whilst meeting the increasingly high energy demands of advanced 5G networks.
One conversation dominated the exhibition hall this year, and that was the emergence of truly independent TowerCos in a market typically dominated by MNOs or MNO-backed TowerCos. TowerCos are not new to MENA, but the cultural shift towards the independent TowerCo model as the de facto route to network growth and management certainly is.
How AI allows you to staff every tower with a team of local, maximising each towers potential without additional hiring.