World Environment Day, this time hosted (virtually) by Colombia for the year 2020, is the most renowned day for environmental action. It all started with the United Nations Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm in June 1972.
That conference was considered as a symbolic turning point in the growing awareness of the environmental problems that posed a serious detrimental effect on the earth’s climate. From then on, every year, 5th June has been recognized by the United Nations as the day to reflect a collaborative effort towards a sustainable environment by governments, businesses, celebrities, and citizens all over the world to focus on pressing environmental issues.
This year, the theme is Biodiversity – a concern that is both urgent and existential. Recent events, from bushfires in Brazil, the United States, and Australia to locust infestations across East Africa and parts of India – and now, this global disease pandemic, COVID-19 – demonstrate the interdependence of humans and the webs of life, in which they exist.
ITU & GSMA: Coordinated efforts and initiatives towards climate actions
The Information Communications Technology (ICT), which includes telecommunications as well, has been a significant contributor in many ways to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Spearheaded by GSMA, more than 50 global mobile operators – including Indian operators Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea, have recently started disclosing their climate impacts, energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions via the internationally recognized CDP global disclosure system. This disclosure formed the first phase of an industry-wide, climate action roadmap.
The rapid growth of the ICT sector stresses the importance of addressing and limiting any increase in its cause towards increasing the carbon footprint in the environment. Bearing climate factors in mind the major players in the global ICT sector have committed themselves to align with the Paris Agreement, pledging to limit carbon footprint and support the 1.5°C trajectory goal. Leading telecom operators and equipment and infrastructure providers have also pledged to use renewable electricity by 2030.
In line with this commitment and in order to establish an ICT sector trajectory, a collaboration was initiated between the ITU, Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), GSM Association (GSMA) and Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) to develop sectoral decarbonization pathways to help ICT companies set targets aligning with climate science.
This step will see the progressive development of a decarbonisation pathway for the mobile industry, aligned with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which came into place in February 2020. The efforts under SBTi will include emissions reductions trajectories for mobile, fixed and data center operators to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°c, designed to substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change.
Also for the period 2020–2030, the main strategy to decarbonize the ICT sector, at the pace necessary to align with 1.5°C trajectories, will be the implementation of simultaneous, vigorous and urgent actions in the following fields: i) implementation of energy efficiency plans; ii) switch to renewable or low carbon electricity supplies; and iii) encouragement of carbon consciousness among end-users.
Harnessing renewable energy sources
Emissions associated with the use of ICT equipment amount to approximately 60% of the total life cycle carbon footprint of the sector, with the remaining footprint split roughly equally between electricity consumption in manufacture, and all other emissions including diesel generators, embedded carbon in materials and components, transport and fugitive emissions.
The ICT industry has woken up at large to the side effects of its operations. The constant awareness drive on climate action has helped the ICT industry now to become conscious of the potential benefits of renewable energy sources (RES) in making the future systems greener and sustainable. Large organizations have also allocated funds to research on ways that can reduce carbon emissions and also develop operational systems that cause less harm to nature.
It was found that not only renewable energy is applicable to large scale applications like telecom base stations (BS), it is also applicable to small and medium scale systems and devices like computer peripherals and electric vehicles.
Powering telecom towers with renewables has also been viewed as a great opportunity – especially for towers in remote locations – for climate action. Typically, these towers run on diesel gensets/generators that require significant costs for operation and maintenance.
Globally there are more than 3 to 4 million telecom towers. It has now become obvious that the potential for renewable energy solutions is therefore huge to meet the energy requirement of the towers. The requirement also applies for energy storage as telecommunication applications require extremely high availabilities. Researchers in this area have figured that using onsite solar and wind energy offers a less expensive option to electricity from the grid. Many researchers have figured a straightforward approach – when onsite power is available, it will be used for the tower, if not, electricity will be used. If there is an outage, the back-up gensets provide an emergency supply. Hybrid power systems, combining solar power and high performance batteries have also been largely explored in recent times as a sustainable energy source.
India in support of the climate action plans
Indian telecom operators have also been an integral part of the global concerted efforts led by GSMA to work towards resolving the global climate emergency. Indian network operators, telecom equipment manufacturers, tower operators, and energy providers have all pledged a unified commitment to support climate action and work towards achieving the Paris Agreement requirements.
On World Environment Day, Voice&Data interacted with Indian leaders of organizations and associations to understand how their company is in the direction of achieving climate action goals. The leaders share facts and solutions on how the telecom sector is contributing to carbon emissions and what needs to be done to orient the industry at large to reduce emissions and attain sustainable goals towards a clean, green environment for the future generations awaiting to see the world.
Rajan S Mathews, DG, COAI
On World Environment Day, COAI and its members would like to renew our commitment to reduce our industry carbon footprint and push for a cleaner environment. Over the years, TSPs, along with our Network Partners and Infrastructure Providers, have already reduced our dependence on grid energy by reducing electric consumption of our electronic components by over 30%.
New designed Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs), which do not need air conditioning and can stand high ambient temperatures, have allowed us to further reduce our electric consumption. Over 30% of our Mobile Towers have now been converted to solar energy and the count increases by the day.
This continues to reduce our dependence on diesel to power our cell towers. In addition, the industry is working with the sector regulator, TRAI to meet the stiff annual reductions in the carbon footprint set by the regulator. The industry has facilitated such new work paradigms such as ‘Work from Home’, which have reduced air pollution considerably. We are committed to ensure that our efforts continue in these directions so as to ensure generations after us enjoy a cleaner, healthier environment.
Senior Spokesperson, Acsys Technologies
Telecom providers strive to optimize their energy expenditures by investing in renewable energy sources to power their BTS. However, one aspect that is often overlooked is the indirect operational costs. Acsys Technologies, as a company, focuses on optimizing the operational efficiency of cell towers during remote site maintenance.
The company has designed smart Bluetooth technology-based keys that can be implemented by telecom companies for controlled key-less access to their remote sites. Acsys’ OTP-enabled Bluetooth keys together with our iAMS route optimization algorithms allow field engineers to service more sites, without having to collect keys. This reduces the number of trips by around 35% leading to substantial carbon footprint reduction within the first month of installing the solution.
Rajshekhar Deshraj, BU Head – Convergence, Sterlite Power Transmission Ltd.
Telecom operators can join their hands with power utilities to ensure sustainability. The existing omnipresent power transmission tower infrastructure can be leveraged by the telecom industry to build telecom grade tower sites. A large number of telecom towers can be easily added with minimal investment, solving time and capital constraints of the telecom industry, along with reducing the carbon footprint.
Statistically, more than 5.2 million tons of CO2 are emitted annually in India due to diesel consumption for powering telecom sites. A convergence of power and telecom has huge potential in reducing the carbon emission and thereby protecting our environment.
Akanksha Sharma, Head CSR and Sustainability, STL
Sustainability is core to STL’s business. With a vision to ensure 100 percent waste reduction and reuse, we have been efficiently working towards managing waste and also bringing innovation into practice through a circular economy.
STL is the world’s first integrated optic fibre and cables manufacturer to be Zero Waste to Landfill certified for diverting over 99% of our waste away from landfills while reducing a substantial amount of carbon emissions.
We have also gone on to develop green products and enhance the durability of the networks whilst holistically looking at the overall carbon and water usage in creating these digital networks. Enhancements in the manufacturing process, development of reusable packaging, waste, and water management are some of the ways through which STL has significantly reduced environmental footprint.
Tejinder Kalra, COO, Indus Towers
There has already been deep concerted effort by all players, especially Indus Towers in protecting the environment. The biggest source of carbon emissions at telecom sites is diesel and at Indus, we have taken the path to go “Diesel Free” in the next 2-3 years.
We are committed to sustainable telecommunications and a greener future and have taken various strategic measures to fulfill these goals. Having already converted over 56% of our tower portfolio to ‘diesel-free’ sites, we are looking to progressively shift from diesel to the grid wherever possible and also find innovative solutions to achieve a zero-carbon footprint on telecom sites where electrification is a challenge. Indus has reduced diesel usage by 210 million liters since 2011-12 which is equivalent to planting 14 million trees.
Dipankar Ghosh, Partner & Global Leader – Sustainability and Climate Change, Thinkthrough Consulting
Sustainable development thrives on information technology to a great extent, that includes telecom as its integral part. Rapid development in IT and telecom has made the availability of information at fingertips of researchers, policymakers, innovators and businesses alike; it aids computations and analysis easier for determining as well as implementing climate mitigation and adaptation. However, in recent times, the very sustainability of technology faces a test.
Telecom consumes energy – consumes it in such an enormity that is believed today as one of the key inhibitors for its advancement.
In India, through the propagation of grid electricity in remote areas and deployment of solar energy, telecom operators’ dependence on diesel has reduced substantially in recent times, yet the sector gobbles substantial fossil fuel.
Not surprisingly, the carbon footprint of the sector remains distressingly high. The need of the hour is to integrate the development of the telecom sector with the renewable energy technology adoption in a seamless manner, that ensures symbiotic innovations in both.