A more sustainable future: how telcos can improve energy use

By David Wilson, Global Offering Director for Solar and Telecom Energy Solutions, Vertiv
David Wilson, Global Offering Director for Solar and Telecom Energy Solutions at Vertiv, shares his insights into sustainability strategies for telcos

It’s no surprise that telecoms operators around the world are prioritising sustainability initiatives. The GSMA estimates that they account for up to 3% of the total global energy demand, and estimates that this number will increase further despite the savings in energy consumption that the new 5G radio standard brings. Multiple new mobile stations will be needed to meet the expected exponential growth in data traffic from 5G connected devices, as well as the growing demands of edge capacity for high-performing services. 

Telcos are also under pressure to comply with stringent laws and regulations. For example, the EU requires listed companies with more than 500 employees to comply with the new Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD) based on a unified Green Classification System called “EU Taxonomy”.

However, whilst there’s plenty of pressure on telco operators there’s also positive news -– as these organisations have already made significant strides in tackling their energy consumption; the industry was an early adopter of solar energy and today telcos are looking to expand their adoption of renewables (wind energy, solar PV, and lithium battery storage) to deliver a resilient, reliable and more sustainable energy supply.

The industry should certainly be commended for these efforts, however, there’s still plenty of work to be done. 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?

Be honest and open about your intentions, and capabilities

Whilst much of this article will tackle the technological innovations which operators can implement to drive their sustainability credentials, it’s important to first look at the promises telcos make, and the green messages they send into the market. Specifically, it’s vital to avoid the temptation to indulge in ‘greenwashing’.

The greener or more sustainable a brand is, the more likely it will be able  to attract customers and maintain a higher price in comparison to competitors. Simply put, companies want to buy from responsible vendors. 

But, whilst it’s tempting to hype your green credentials, operators must be careful with overpromises, or worse, claims that aren’t true. Disingenuous messages are likely to be spotted by consumers and watchdog organisations, and can cause a negative impact on a brand’s reputation.

This same honesty is vital in attracting and retaining staff. Integrating sustainability initiatives into the day-to-day business strategies and honest communication around challenges and achievements will help operators to secure the talent they need for future success.  

Transition to high efficiency rectifiers 

Away from the marketing messages, there are a number of immediate practical 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 routes to a greener future 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 improve energy efficiency by up to 6%.

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.

Align energy strategies to your access site 

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 potential hotspots, power performance, and distribution inefficiencies in order to optimise the DC power supply, maximise use of cooling and avoid overload. 

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 whilst improving energy efficiencies and saving costs.

Embrace 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. Other internal sustainability initiatives, such as reuse and recycling equipment and reducing water consumption in factories and offices are also underway - and are succeeding not only on having a positive impact on the environment but also bring cost savings too.  

The good news is that progress is happening all the time. 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 future for the sector.

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