Research shows that energy use is responsible for more than 92% of telecommunications network operating costs, and that 5G will drive unprecedented increases in consumption across the network.
This is a huge concern, but 5G is just one item on a growing list of reasons why today’s telcos are increasingly focused on energy reduction and carbon responsibility.
Telecom operators that have been caught in a seemingly endless loop of network upgrades are now turning their attention to the costs and carbon footprint associated with those advancements – and experts agree that this will be their top priority in the months and years ahead.
The good news is that telcos have already made strides in tackling their energy consumption. The industry has been deploying hybrid energy systems for decades and was an early adopter of solar energy, albeit in limited, specific applications. The industry should be commended for these efforts, but there’s still plenty of work to be done. So, what near and longer-term strategies can telcos deploy to help boost energy efficiency and make more strides in achieving sustainability?
Replacing legacy DC power systems
Let’s be clear: there is no silver bullet for reducing gross energy consumption in telecom networks. There are, however, immediate steps which operators can take to support the transition to renewable energy sources, like solar power.
The most obvious and already widely adopted strategy is simply transitioning 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 5-6 per cent.
What’s more, modern equipment frequently includes energy-saving modes and features that are too often ignored. Today’s DC power systems, for example, are more intelligent and capable of more advanced energy management than legacy systems, but frequently operators don’t harness those capabilities, favouring static operation.
Match energy strategies to your access site
It’s an overstatement to say every site is unique, 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, comprehensive real-time monitoring of 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 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, visualise potential hot spots and recognise load distribution inefficiencies. With the ability to map the site’s power distribution and thermal output, operators can ultimately move the load from one rack to another to improve airflow and optimise thermal management.
Look to the long term
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, promisingly, many operators are already taking 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. For example, 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 may 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.