5G: optimising energy and sustainability
Rising concurrently with the digital revolution, energy efficiency faces many exciting possibilities.
We spoke with Ian Hood, Chief Technologist (Global Service Provider) at enterprise software company Red Hat, about 5G's potential for maximising energy optimisation and driving more sustainable power consumption:
Can 5G become the world's first carbon-neutral mobile network?
5G network infrastructure is one piece of the story - equally significant is how it will combine with edge computing. Edge computing that takes place at or near the physical location of the user or the source of the data, which has many potential use cases.
The combination of 5G and edge applications delivered on cloud-native platforms certainly has the potential to provide improvements in carbon emission consumption per Tbyte of data capacity.
Current projections from various industry forums and analysts suggest that 5G will require much lower energy to transmit the same volume of data, so that 5G should outperform 4G by an order of magnitude. As a result, carrying more traffic on 5G should translate into lower energy consumption than leaving it on existing 4G/LTE or 2G/3G networks.
One factor to consider is that by enabling new applications, 5G could drive the acceleration of traffic volumes and associated power consumption. However, the use of a hybrid cloud container platform to converge networking and enterprise applications can counterbalance this, and beyond just the operator's infrastructure. Using a common platform for both network and IT that spans multiple locations will reduce the overall infrastructure footprint as well as reducing traffic and associated transport costs between edge and core locations. This approach will enable operators and their end customers to accelerate the innovation of new applications and services while improving overall operational and power efficiency.
Susan James, Senior Director of telecommunications strategy, Red Hat, added:
Power consumption has always been an improvement focus area due to both the cost of power and also the difficulty in providing power to a number of locations. 5G will be inherently more energy-efficient and the base station power consumption will decrease significantly. However, becoming carbon neutral will largely depend on power deployment choices such as renewable resources, solar and wind energy. Batteries backup systems exist at all sites today but they are used primarily in emergency situations and not in active power management.
Will the introduction of 5G help IoT services achieve higher efficiency and allow inactive equipment to better conserve energy?
The introduction of 5G itself will not necessarily help IoT services achieve higher efficiency. However, the combination of 5G and edge deployments that use cloud-native technologies and software-defined infrastructure will enable greater resource optimisation. For example, it will enable the use of smaller amounts of inactive equipment using horizontal scaling with 1:n redundancy as compared to existing approaches today. In addition, in cloud-native environments, one can spin up standby equipment faster than with the physical or virtualised appliances deployed today - across IoT, video, healthcare, public safety applications.
What is the responsibility of operators and infrastructure providers to ensure networks use as little energy as possible, and how can this be achieved?
It's a shared responsibility for the entire industry, including the operators, technology vendors, and enterprises, to ensure that network infrastructure delivering communications and applications services use as little energy as possible. Innovations in radio access, networking, compute, and storage technologies to optimise efficient use of power all factor into these improvements.
However, a key aspect of further improving overall power efficiency is in using open platforms and interoperable APIs when building a cloud-native distributed infrastructure. If the platforms are open, operators have the flexibility and freedom to choose the optimal software applications to meet performance requirements as well as operational and power efficiency.
Open innovations in these areas enable operators and businesses to automate service delivery closer to end customers (reducing backhaul from edge to core). They also enable elastic scale of services on-demand where they are needed compared with the idle capacity we have today.
All of these approaches will drive continued power efficiency per Tbyte of capacity delivered.
In addition, many operators are working together to share their 5G RAN infrastructure along with their optical transport capacity to support additional services and spikes in demand. RAN and transport sharing will reduce net power usage across large geographic regions -- a converged approach as compared to separate RAN/transport networks for each operator.
Additionally, in what ways can 5G also be used for positive environmental impact?
As 5G is focused on converging the delivery of network and enterprise applications across many technology fronts using open platforms and APIs, there is significant potential for positive environmental impact. Many radio technologies are being combined in 4G/5G and small cell spectrum to optimise service flexibility and capacity while reducing overall power consumption.
Similarly, the network services and enterprise applications are being combined onto open cloud-native platforms like Red Hat OpenShift, which can function as a single layer across all infrastructure, and all types of cloud, streamlining how apps are scaled and managed.
Some operators have already developed a consistent CI/CD software pipeline approach for deployment of hybrid (physical, virtual and cloud-native) network configurations - as is already well established for enterprise applications. Not only does this increase their speed to market of services, but this approach also improves operational and power efficiency of infrastructure so that it is provided in a just-in-time manner, minimising stranded capacity while still meeting security and service level agreements of customers.
Susan James, Senior Director (Telecommunications Strategy), Red Hat, added:
In addition to this, 5G will make it economically more viable to monitor and detect anomalies and track consumption, so that issues like water and gas leaks can be identified done much sooner, both reducing costs and conserving resources. There are already cases where monitoring technology is deployed in remote and ecologically sensitive areas that help identify issues before they get out of hand, and 5G technology will make this more readily available.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere