Can 5G Help Us Achieve Net Zero?
With World Environment Day on June 5 themed Only One Earth, now is the time to reflect how we can best mitigate humanity’s impact on our planet’s health.
Global warming has intensified the threats we collectively face, endangering huge numbers of species as well as our own well-being. In recent years, we have seen the results of climate change in the shape of wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, heatwaves, flooding, and other extreme weather conditions. To head off future environmental catastrophes, the rise in global temperature rise must be kept to under 1.5°C compared with pre-industrial levels. To achieve this, the UN states that emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030, with a view to reaching net zero by 2050.
For us in the technology field, that means looking at how the mobile industry can influence decarbonization.
According to the GSMA’s Mobile Net Zero report, it is estimated that the mobile industry produces around 220 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) per year, which is about 0.4% of global carbon emissions. The entire ICT sector, however, is able to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in other sectors by approximately 15% by 2030.
5G in the mobile industry
More than 90% of network costs in the mobile industry are allocated to energy. In 2020, the industry contributed to 2% of the world’s electricity consumption, totaling around 19.8 million tonnes oil equivalent (MTOE). Besides sourcing electricity from renewable energy, how can we use the latest technologies, especially 5G, to lower energy costs?
Unlike previous generations, 5G has been built with network energy efficiency in mind from the outset. 5G protocols can do away with CRS, an important reference signal for signal measurement; adopt more advanced coding schemes such as polar codes; introduce bandwidth part (BWP), which enables UE-level power control; and optimize massive MIMO beamforming, as well as a host of other measures to create a greener technology.
Sites are the most energy-hungry assets on networks and, to achieve carbon neutrality, more can be done with 5G in this respect than on any other network. Let’s start with base stations, which are core to radio transmission. Highly integrated radios frequency (RF) modules are available in 5G, with a single module able to provide multiple radio access technologies (RATs) and frequency bands. This helps simplify site construction and reduce energy consumption. Cutting-edge antennas, which are better suited to massive MIMO transmission, can transmit the same amount of data and deliver the same level of user experience at a lower energy cost. For example, Huawei’s MetaAAU uses ultra-massive antenna arrays to reduce energy consumption by about 30% while providing the same downlink coverage.
Other auxiliary equipment, such as equipment rooms and air conditioning systems, are also evolving or even being phased out in 5G. The Centralized Radio Access Network (C-RAN) enables BBUs to be deployed in a central equipment room, so one cooling system can serve multiple sites. Conventional sites are remodeled into blade sites, cabinet sites, or pole sites when possible to make the most of natural cooling systems. Synergy between service modules and power supply system is achieved to boost energy efficiency.
During network operations, energy can be saved by integrating a sleep mode into components. Previous sleep modes adopted a relatively coarse granularity at channel level, carrier level, and symbol level. To better respond to instantaneous traffic surges, millisecond-level dynamic shutdown is employed to save energy and ensure services can be resumed quickly. In addition, AI can be used to train models to optimize related parameter settings and balance different modes provided by the same hardware. Huawei’s PowerStar 2.0, a GLOMO-award-winning, energy-saving solution equipped with intelligent algorithms, can cut network energy consumption by up to 25% under typical network configurations.
As such, 5G is 20 times more energy efficient than 4G, not to mention earlier RATs. Telcos around the world are phasing out of obsolete legacy networks to accomplish “more bits, less watts”.
5G in verticals
The influence of 5G goes far beyond just the mobile industry. Where there is 5G, we also see the digitalization of vertical industries. 5G’s potential will soar if it can transform how other sectors operate, including sectors that consume the most energy like manufacturing, energy, and transportation.
In the manufacturing sector, smart factories are now possible with 5G’s ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC). Robots connected wirelessly through 5G can take over delicate, collaborative tasks, streamlining production processes and allowing workers to focus on more productive tasks. In warehouses, 5G-enabled Automatic Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are replacing fossil-fueled vehicles in locating and transporting goods, allowing for a sizeable reduction in energy use.
In the energy sector, 5G’s enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) capabilities enable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with sensors to perform routine electric power cable inspections, and upload high-res, on-site images. In power distribution and usage, millions of IoT meters connected through 5G can report data at a scheduled time, putting an end to time-consuming manual meter reading and reducing the energy waste incurred.
In the transportation sector, real-time information can be collected by all vehicles equipped with 5G sensors on the road, enabling a smart transportation system that can orchestrate the fleets in an entire city. This facilitates route selection and parking for drivers, as well as city-level infrastructure arrangement, reducing unnecessary energy consumption. 5G increases vehicles’ autonomy thanks to 1-ms latency, bringing the vision of automated driving closer. Driverless vehicles can be widely used in ports or campuses where routes are fixed with few obstructions, and in harsh environments, such as mines. Such applications significantly improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions.
5G can truly revolutionize how other sectors operate, assisting vertical industries to take great steps along their low-carbon paths. 5G has been extensively applied in more than 100 industries, including electricity, steel, manufacturing, mining, ports, hospitals, and banking, helping them go digital and reduce carbon emissions by up to 800 million tons.
With its unparalleled performance, 5G can cut energy use within its own sector and enable various verticals to move together towards a more intelligent and net-zero future.
- Huawei Launches GreenSite and PowerStar2.0 to Help Build Green, Low-Carbon 5G Networks
- China Mobile and Huawei Win 2022 GSMA GLOMO’s ‘Best Mobile Innovation for Climate Action’ Award
- Green 5G White Paper
Disclaimer: Any views and/or opinions expressed in this post by individual authors or contributors are their personal views and/or opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Huawei Technologies.