Industry Thought Leadership

Combating Climate Change with 5G

October, 2020
Li Xiangyu (Spacelee)
VP of Public Affairs and Communications

Huawei Middle East

The planet is facing a climate emergency which, if not tackled immediately, threatens every aspect of life. 5G is being deployed at a time when energy efficiency is a matter of life or death, and it can play a significant role in helping every industry to hit sustainability goals by enabling them to transform their processes and behaviour. Recent years have seen many governments and international organisations – including within the MENA region – initiate sustainability and climate protection programmes, many with targets based on those contained in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed in Paris in 2016. To date, 77 countries and major sub-national economies have set net-zero emission targets by 2050.

Government leadership is important, but not enough on its own. Modern lifestyles have driven a sharp increase in energy usage, 85% of which was still based on fossil fuels in 2018. Use of fossil fuels is one of the key factors driving higher emissions of greenhouse gas (GHG), which contribute to global warming. This, in turn, has multiple dangerous impacts on the environment and on human life, such as natural disasters and the destruction of human and animal habitats. GHG emissions rose by 1.5% per year between 2008 and 2018, according to the United Nations (UN) Emissions Gap Report 2019, and total GHG emissions reached a record high of 55.3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) in 2018.

Every industry needs to define its own targets and a clear roadmap to reach them. The telecoms industry is taking a lead by addressing its own energy efficiency. The cellular industry was the world’s first, in 2016, to commit to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), setting an industry goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The rising use of technologies such as cloud computing and mobile connectivity supports new experiences in every aspect of business and personal life, but it is essential that these benefits can be delivered without any detrimental impact on the environment. National and international policies are targeting a dramatic increase in energy efficiency, and a sharp shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and water. This will entail a completely new approach to energy use, which must be adopted by every industry and individual. This is where 5G is an important enabler.

The way that operators deploy 5G will play a significant role in this. For the first time, energy efficiency is one of the main considerations when planning and optimising new mobile networks, and many techniques – from smart power for base stations to artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled preventive maintenance – will make 5G networks the most sustainable ever.

5G will help other industries to hit their climate goals, known as the “enabling effect”. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) SMART 2020 report,2 the scale of the enabling effect, across all ICT, will be equivalent to 15% of all global emissions by the end of 2020. The 5G enabling effect arises from changes to processes and behaviour, which are supported by a high-capacity, ubiquitous and low-latency 5G network. Together with virtualisation, edge computing, AI-enabled analytics and cloud, 5G can help industries to implement new processes as an integral part of an energy efficiency programme, by supporting the most efficient and flexible allocation of resources. With enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) underpinning many new ways to work and communicate, there has been considerable focus on ensuring that eMBB usage is as energy efficient as possible.

This intelligent use of resources can help to reduce energy consumption in many ways, such as: support for smart energy management; reduced requirement for office space and business travel; efficient just-in-time supply chains enabled by predictive analytics; and intelligent automated management of the movement of vehicles carrying people and goods.

Analysys Mason has conducted analysis of the impact of 5G on energy efficiency in three industries which require energy efficiency transformation most urgently – energy, healthcare and manufacturing – all of which currently have high GHG emissions. The modelling involved lifecycle assessment (LCA) and operation parameter comparison. The research and modelling showed that, in these sectors, 5G can have a significant effect, when combined with other technologies such as cloud, AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), plus other changes such as the adoption of renewable energy sources.

There are many other sectors where 5G and other related technologies can have a dramatic impact on sustainability. Some of these are particularly important because they affect every industry. For instance, transport contributes around one-third of total emissions in many regions, so there is considerable interest in using 5G to support rising levels of vehicle autonomy, so that vehicles, powered by renewable sources of electricity, have the real-time information they need to make the best decisions about routeing, parking and so on, and thus use power most efficiently and avoid traffic congestion and pollution.

Smart cities are among the best examples of how 5G can interact with other emerging technologies, including AI analytics, edge computing and massive IoT, to support a fully efficient, digital and sustainable way of living, working and travelling. Smart-city programmes, like those of the C40 Cities,4 have dramatic results, with connectivity as a key enabler. In Europe, for instance, London, Berlin and Madrid have reduced GHG emissions of motor vehicles by 30% each from their peak rates, and Copenhagen by 61%.

To achieve optimum energy efficiency through 5G, governments, regulators, mobile network operators (MNOs) and the industries all have a part to play. These stakeholders need to do the following to make this happen:

  • Governments can facilitate cooperation between different stakeholders to adopt common platforms and best practice.
  • Regulators can lower barriers to 5G deployment by making spectrum and city infrastructure available in a timely and affordable way.
  • MNOs can work to form strong relationships with all other stakeholders, to set common objectives and roadmaps for 5G-enabled efficiency, and ensure these are central to 5G planning and deployment.

It is only by all stakeholders, countries and industries working together that 5G can fulfil its maximum potential to enhance energy efficiency and help avert climate-change disaster.