By David Wilson, Global Offering Director for Telecom And Solar Energy Solutions at Vertiv
Sustainability is firmly at the top of the agenda for telcos around the world – who are well aware that, like other technology advancements before it, 5G will drive unprecedented increases in consumption across the network.
The good news is that telcos have already made strides in tackling their energy consumption. The industry was an early adopter of solar energy and today telcos are looking towards hybrid renewables (wind energy, solar PV and battery storage) to deliver a resilient, reliable and green energy supply.
It’s important of course, to beware of ‘greenwashing’ – the practice of using green claims as ‘good PR’ without ensuring there’s real substance behind them. Indeed, realising that a holistic approach is required, telcos are increasingly looking outside of their own operations, tackling what is known as ‘Scope 3’ emissions – those which come from businesses’ supply chains.
However, while the industry should certainly be commended for these efforts, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Indeed, a recent study by Vodafone found that, among so-called ‘future ready’ companies, only 51% reported that they had “a clear strategy for investment in sustainability with a clearly defined budget”, with 17% only “making investments from time to time” and 4% not investing at all.
Long a simmering issue for telcos, the climate crisis and associated pressures to improve energy efficiency and management now carry more urgency. When you also consider the shifting political winds supporting energy management best practices, the proliferation of more stringent energy and environmental regulations, and genuine concern as global and corporate citizens, it’s clear that telcos understand they must do more.
So, with a growing impetus to ‘get sustainability right’ and to do it quickly, what near and longer-term strategies can telcos deploy to help boost energy efficiency and make more strides in achieving sustainability?
Immediate step – transition to high-efficiency rectifiers
Let’s be clear: there is no silver bullet for reducing gross energy consumption in telecom networks. There are, however, many immediate steps operators can take to reduce the power they use, shrink their electric bills and support the transition to a more sustainable future.
One of the most obvious and already widely adopted strategies is to simply transition to high-efficiency rectifiers in the DC power systems present at every access site. Replacing legacy DC power systems with newer, high-efficiency models can reduce annual costs by over $7,000 for every 1000A at $0.3/kwhr.
What’s more, modern equipment frequently includes energy-saving modes and features that are all too often ignored. Today’s DC power systems, for example, are more intelligent and capable of more advanced energy management than legacy systems, but in many instances, operators don’t harness those functions, favouring static operation. We urge operators to make the most of these systems’ capabilities and reap immediate energy-saving benefits.
Consider local differences – match energy strategies to your access site
It seems obvious to say that access sites differ across the globe. But when you consider geographies, climate, grid reliability, water availability, governmental regulations and countless other factors around the globe, it becomes clear that no single strategy is appropriate for every access site.
Energy and carbon management strategies must be linked to planning and real estate, and operators must tailor their approach to the conditions across their networks. For example, hybrid energy systems leveraging solar power to supplement unreliable or overtaxed grids are more commonplace in much of Africa, South America, the Middle East and parts of Asia than in the US where grid service is usually reliable and affordable.
Use Intelligent Controls to manage the load
Today, thanks to the latest innovations in technology development, comprehensive real-time monitoring of AC and DC power network infrastructure is possible.
Intelligent controllers are available with advanced load management functionalities that enable telcos to visualise load location, power performance, and distribution inefficiencies in order to optimise the DC power supply, maximise the use of cooling and avoid overload. With effective load management tools, high availability can be achieved while optimising efficiencies and saving costs.
By proactively managing the load, operators can identify the location and power profile of every rack at a given site. This ability to map the site’s power distribution and thermal output enables operators to move the load from one rack to another to improve airflow and optimise thermal management. With effective load management tools, high availability can be achieved while improving energy efficiencies and saving costs.
Looking to the future – long-term strategies
So, it’s positive news that there’s already good work being done by telcos around the world in the field of energy management. And – as well as the industry-wide initiatives – we’re seeing many individual operators take proactive opportunities to implement strategies like intelligent load management to better control energy consumption and costs.
However, operators must also look to the long term to consider more creative, ambitious approaches to managing their energy consumption. When it comes to specific initiatives coming down the line, in the months and years ahead we’re likely to see an eventual move away from the traditional diesel generator, towards hydrogen fuel cell technology.
Other innovations to look at closely include new and emerging battery technologies like sodium-ion that may present additional opportunities for off-grid operation and energy management. And, as on- and off-grid power management becomes more sophisticated, we could see networks evolving into microgrids that generate and share their own power across the network and with the utility.
Although many of these technologies aren’t viable alternatives in the access network today, we’re confident this innovative industry will continue to drive progress – powering a more efficient, and greener, future for the sector. Indeed, by aligning their goals with those of a low-carbon economy, not only can sustainability in the telecommunications industry be improved, but it can also extend the positive environmental impact to other sectors – leading the way towards a brighter, better, future for us all.
1Assuming a large, but stable site uses 1000A per hour, then…
- Annual consumption is 473 040 kwh/yr = [(1000A * 54V * 8760 hr/yr)/1000]
- Annual energy reduction is 23562 kwh/yr with a 5% savings from higher efficiency rectifiers
- Annual utility savings is $7068 when electricity costs a hefty 0.3$/ kwhr