Safaricom’s deployment of a 5G network could potentially help Kenya contribute to global efforts towards reducing carbon emissions, a report by the Global System for Mobile Association (GSMA) indicates.
The survey, Mobile Net Zero – State of the Industry on Climate Action 2021 explains that the roll-out of a 5G network puts pressure on operators’ energy usage to power the new equipment.
“Data will be transferred using up to 90 per cent less energy though, and with the use of Artificial Intelligence to power down networks during quiet periods and the retirement of legacy equipment, it is possible to avoid significant increases in energy consumption,” the study states.
Safaricom has already installed several base stations in Nairobi and western Kenya, with Airtel announcing that it has also joined the 5G bandwagon, with 600 sites in the capital, Mombasa and Malindi.
Recent calculations of the mobile industry’s carbon emissions estimate them to be around 220 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, but by using 5G wavelengths and modern transmitters, the emissions could be substantially minimized.
5G networks are built with network energy efficiency in mind, and the GSMA says Safaricom’s launch of a fifth generation network is a key indicator of compliance.
The phased retirements of legacy 2G and 3G networks, which are energy intensive have started to feed through to operating expenses savings but looking ahead, however, as 4G and 5G progressively account for larger shares of the overall global user base, data traffic rises are inevitable – and with this comes the pressure on energy consumption.
“This will require more inventive approaches to energy efficiency, and there are a number of initiatives and projects being deployed by operators. Energy-saving methods being used are at the site level; radio access network (RAN) equipment and network planning,” the report illustrates.
All RAN equipment suppliers are addressing energy efficiency as a priority, with Ericsson in particular focusing on “breaking the energy curve” to avoid continuous increases in energy use.
Its strategy includes energy-saving software and sunsetting less energy-efficient legacy networks, saying its customer case studies have shown it can provide energy savings of up to 30 per cent.
Huawei’s PowerStar solution to mobile operators, which won the GSMA’s 2020 best innovation for climate action award helps cut emissions, while ZTE has developed PowerPilot, which introduced Artificial Intelligence-powered service-awareness energy saving and is the result of green 5G innovation patent applications.
Safaricom has been working with Huawei on various digital projects, including the recent 5G launch, and according to its Sustainability Report, by the end of 2020, it was at a 9 per cent reduction in carbon footprint.
“This is attributed to various efforts like partnership between the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and local community forest associations to grow 5 million trees over a period of 5 years in four different sites to ensure carbon emissions are offset through reforestation.”
The initiative is expected to offset around 26 per cent of carbon emissions once the trees have grown to maturity.
The telco also said it aims to reduce emissions from its supply chain by freighting goods via the sea instead of the air.
The carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions of ocean or goods transported using container ships is a fraction of those flown in the holds of cargo planes.
As an increasing number of business leaders and organisations are acknowledging, the future growth and resilience of successful companies will be determined by their ability to navigate the looming global shift to a low-carbon, clean-technology based economy
Safaricom is also working on areas that focus on Energy efficiency, promoting alternative clean energy sources and managing its electronic waste. It is a member of GSMA.
The report notes that as of April 2021, operators covering 50 per cent of global mobile connections and 65 per cent of industry revenues have committed to science-based targets to halt climate change, with a significant proportion of operators also committing to Net Zero targets by 2050.
“31 per cent of global mobile connections and 36 per cent of the industry by revenue has a net zero target, making the mobile sectors one of the first to break through the 20 per cent target as set by the United Nations Race To Zero campaign,” it says.
The biggest contribution the mobile sector can make to climate action, however, is by helping other sectors of the economy reduce their carbon emissions through digitisation.
Research conducted by the GSMA with the Carbon Trust in 2019 found that such efforts enable carbon reductions in other sectors that are 10 times larger, equivalent to approximately 4 per cent of global emissions.
By 2020, 60 mobile operators providing 69 per cent of the world’s mobile connections and 80 per cent of revenue disclosed their climate impacts, risks and opportunities to the Carbon Disclosure Project.
MTN, which operates in more than 20 countries said it aims to achieve a 47 per cent average reduction in absolute emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2040.
The teloc is betting on the advancement of the Internet of Things (IoT) and prepaid solar energy systems for customers to leverage digital technologies to support the growth of green economies.
“Our strategy is to continually seek opportunities to extract energy efficiencies where possible and to maintain investment in renewable sources of energy to mitigate our climate impact,” MTN states.
With presence in eight African countries, Vodafone said it is moving towards ensuring that network waste is reused, sold, or recycled and 100 per cent of the electricity used in its networks comes from renewable sources.
American multinational telco AT&T that offers voice roaming in over 190 countries and mobile data access in over 135 countries says it is putting more priority in network virtualization.
“We are eliminating significant portions of energy-intense network equipment and relying instead on low-cost, energy efficient hardware can virtualise the functions of the network equipment,” it says.
As a result, the mobile network operator can deploy new capabilities faster at a lower cost, utilise less energy and lessen its carbon footprint.
“Our network is tested by climate change and natural disasters every year. We recognise the long-term impact these commitments can have, and we owe it to the millions of customers who rely on our services to create the most resilient and sustainable business we can,” said John Stankey, chief executive of AT&T.
Since it was created in 2000 as the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), GSMA says it has created a global reporting system for greenhouse gas emissions, and detailing climate risks and opportunities.
“Based on the adage that ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’, the CDP now has more than 10,000 companies, cities, states and regions disclosing their carbon emissions every year.”
It underscores that connected digital technologies through cloud-based services could enable economies to move towards decarbonisation, as they generally lead to greater efficiency and better use of resources, both of which are vital for the low-carbon transition.
While disclosure of emissions has been rising steadily over the last decade, there are still operators with around 30 per cent of connections who do not publicly disclose their climate impact, the survey shows.
Measuring emissions from mobile operators’ supply chain and from customers, the reports expounds, involves complicated estimate scenarios, usually based on carbon intensities of economic spend data, sometimes combined with supplier and customer specific data, if available.
To achieve the highest levels of carbon reduction across all sectors, countries are required to adapt to working from home, adopting smart transport and cities, smart manufacturing and smart construction which if implemented would reduce emissions by 39 per cent, 30 per cent, 11 per cent and 10 per cent respectively.
Research conducted in 2021 by the GSMA with specialist energy consultancy Rethink Research found that smart energy systems could prevent an overbuild of capacity worth 16,000 terawatt hours of annual generation which, based on today’s electricity prices, could save Sh206 trillion per year by 2050.
The report acknowledged India’s smart energy company Reliance Jio for its energy efficiency project as an important part of achieving carbon reduction goals.
The company has installed motion sensors on every floor of server halls, resulting in an annual reduction of 1,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide.
Its Lithium-Ion batteries have significantly reduced the need for diesel generators, which are needed for emergency power. It says, so far, 3,082 underutilised diesel generators have been demobilised, resulting in a reduction of 7,571 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year.
Carbon dioxide emissions
“More importantly, compared to today’s energy mix, it could save 7.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to more than 23 per cent of global decarbonisation.”
“As we embark on a fairer, greener recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, digitisation and climate action will increasingly be two of the biggest global drivers of change,” says John Giusti Chief Regulatory Officer, GSMA.
He calls on governments to align their carbon reduction targets to net zero by 2050 and create suitable energy market frameworks for businesses to access renewable electricity at competitive prices.
As a commitment towards the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement that aims to keep global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels, Gonzalo Munoz, UN High Level climate champion says a relentless drive to switch to decarbonised and renewable energy supply is needed.
“These efforts can deliver up to 80 per cent of the sector’s decarbonisation, not only in operators’ operations but also through their supply chains,” he notes.