An array of options is available to the sector to meet its energy demand in an eco-friendly way. An industry veteran compares them and points to the future
The telecommunications industry has become an indispensable part of our lives, connecting billions of people around the world. But as in every other sector, the growing environmental concerns necessitate the adoption of more sustainable and eco-friendly practices. The emergence of green telecom networks, which prioritise energy efficiency, reduced carbon emissions and overall long-term sustainability, would play a decisive role in this endeavour for the future of the sector.
"Embracing sustainable energy solutions is not only an opportunity to reduce operational costs but also a vital contribution to global sustainability goals."
THE NEED FOR GREEN TELECOM
It is vital to understand the pressing need for green telecom networks. Within the ICT sector, telcos are responsible for 1.6% of total global CO2 emissions, which contribute to climate change. As the demand for telecom services is expected to grow exponentially with the upcoming 5G and 6G technologies and their use cases, this figure is expected to rise further. This makes it imperative to transition towards more sustainable and eco-friendly operations.
Advancements in telecom technologies have led to practices which optimise power consumption and lead to more efficient use. Some of these are:
Modern routers, switches and low-energy base stations have transformed the telecom industry through significant advancements in energy efficiency. These devices now incorporate advanced power management systems and energy-efficient components. Cutting-edge semiconductors and processors are designed to consume less power while maintaining high performance. This not only reduces energy consumption but also leads to substantial cost savings for telecom operators. Moreover, new base station designs with intelligent systems can dynamically adjust power consumption based on network traffic patterns, further enhancing energy efficiency during off-peak hours.
INITIATIVES AND STRATEGIES
Advanced algorithms play a pivotal role in optimising network operations for energy efficiency. By intelligently routing data to minimise transmission distances, these algorithms reduce energy consumption. For instance, data can be routed through paths with lower energy requirements, thereby conserving power.
Dynamic spectrum access allows networks to adapt and allocate frequencies as needed, reducing the energy expended on idle or underutilised spectrum. Further, IoT-enabled optimisations like the utilisation of sensors to optimise cooling, smart metering and fuel monitoring can help in making the network more efficient.
Submerged datacentres: Submerged datacentres offer an innovative approach to cooling and power consumption. These datacentres are placed underwater, leveraging the natural cooling properties of water to maintain optimal temperatures for the servers. Liquid and Free Cooling are other promising cooling techniques to enhance energy efficiency to reduce the energy footprint for telecom network operations.
Waste management protocols: This involves responsible disposal and recycling of electronic waste arising from outdated equipment. Sustainable e-waste management not only curbs environmental impact but also ensures adherence to regulatory mandates. In tandem, material recycling represents another crucial facet of telecom sustainability.
Advancements in telecom technologies have led to practices which optimise power consumption and lead to more efficient use.
Renewable energy integration: The integration of solar panels into telecom infrastructure has become a game-changer. Photovoltaic cells capture sunlight and convert it directly into electricity. This renewable energy source is particularly effective in regions with abundant sunshine. Telecom operators are increasingly adopting solar panels to reduce their reliance on conventional power sources. For locations with consistent wind patterns, wind turbines can be utilised to generate clean electricity. This approach is better suited for remote areas with limited access to the grid.
An emerging and innovative approach to renewable energy integration in green telecom networks is the use of energy kites. Energy kites, also known as airborne wind energy systems, are a groundbreaking technology that harnesses wind energy at higher altitudes using tethered kites. The key advantages of this technology include the utilisation of stronger and more consistent winds for reliable energy generation, higher portability, lower installation and maintenance costs, 24/7 operation and a minimal physical footprint.
POTENTIAL OF FUEL CELLS IN
In the ever-evolving world of telecommunications, ensuring uninterrupted network connectivity is paramount. However, the challenge of power cuts and inconsistent power supplies adds significant operational costs to the equation. Currently, diesel generators serve as the go-to backup power source to maintain continuous operation in the case of electricity disruptions. But as we confront the environmental impact of diesel generators and the growing demand for sustainable solutions, the telecom industry is shifting its focus towards the adoption of fuel cells. These innovative energy systems offer a reliable and eco-friendly alternative, making them ideal for standalone operations and supplementing the quest for uninterrupted connectivity.
Fuel cells: Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that efficiently convert chemical energy from fuel and oxygen into electricity. Unlike batteries, fuel cells require a continuous source of fuel and oxygen to operate, but produce minimal emissions in the process. Some examples of fuel cells are Proton Exchange Membranes (PEMFC), Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFC) and Direct Methanol Fuel Cells (DMFC).
Fuel cells are renowned for their longevity. They have a significantly longer operational life compared to traditional batteries, reducing the frequency of replacements and associated waste. Another compelling advantage of fuel cells is their eco-friendliness and high reliability. These devices produce minimal emissions, significantly reducing the carbon footprint of telecom operations.
In the context of backup power sources for telecom networks, fuel cells outperform traditional batteries and diesel generators. They continuously generate electricity as long as fuel is supplied, making them ideal for networks with varying power needs. Additionally, they have longer life spans, reducing the need for frequent replacements and waste. Compared to diesel generators, fuel cells are quieter and require less maintenance.
HYDROGEN CELLS FOR BTS: A DEEP DIVE
Hydrogen fuel cells use hydrogen as a fuel source and oxygen, usually sourced from the air, as an oxidant. The only byproduct of this electrochemical reaction is water, ensuring zero emissions and making it an exceptionally clean and environment-friendly energy source.
Government initiatives: The Indian government has been taking significant steps towards promoting green technology initiatives and has set ambitious targets to achieve net-zero emissions by 2070. India has already implemented several policy measures to accelerate the shift to cleaner and more efficient technologies, such as subsidies for electric vehicles and the removal of subsidies for petrol and diesel.
The government has approved the National Green Hydrogen Mission, which aims to make India a leading producer and supplier of green hydrogen in the world. The mission has an initial outlay of Rs. 19,744 crore and aims to achieve a green hydrogen production capacity of at least 5 million metric tonnes per annum with an associated renewable energy capacity addition of about 125 GW in the country.
It has also introduced the Green Credits Programme to incentivise voluntary environmental actions undertaken by individuals, private sectors, small-scale industries, cooperatives, forestry enterprises and farmer-produce organisations for their environmental actions. Significant steps have been taken to promote green technology initiatives, and these initiatives could help India emerge as a key base for hydrogen electrolyzer production with 8GW capacity by 2025.
ROLE OF PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS
Driving the shift to green telecom solutions necessitates a synergistic approach, and collaborations between governments and private telecom operators have proven instrumental in this regard. Governments can play a pivotal role by providing fiscal incentives and tax breaks, which considerably reduce the financial burden on private entities keen on transitioning to green solutions. Moreover, pooling resources from both public and private sectors can expedite joint research and development initiatives, thereby fast-tracking technological advancements. Beyond the technical and financial facets, these collaborations hold the potential to spearhead public awareness campaigns, educating the masses on the environmental implications of telecom operations and elucidating the imperative transition towards greener solutions.
GREEN TELECOM ROADBLOCKS
The transition towards green telecom solutions, while essential, comes with its set of challenges that the industry grapples with. High upfront investment is often necessary, especially when considering the shift to promising technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells. Many operators find this initial capital
An emerging and innovative approach to renewable energy integration in green telecom networks is the use of energy kites (aka airborne wind energy systems).
Furthermore, there’s the intricate task of retrofitting and altering existing network infrastructures to accommodate these new energy sources, presenting both logistical and financial hurdles. Even as hydrogen emerges as a beacon of hope for green energy, consistent availability, especially of green hydrogen, remains a concern, underscoring supply chain issues. Additionally, on the path to full adoption, the industry still has technical speed bumps that need addressing, underscoring the need for ongoing innovation and problem-solving.
On-ground support is also required for the implementation of progressive policy measures like the Green Energy Open Access enabled by the Ministry of Power, which the states and discoms need to adopt swiftly to help enhance green energy use in telecom.
THE ROAD AHEAD
The integration of fuel cells, especially hydrogen cells, into telecom operations is not merely a passing trend but a necessity. As the telecommunications industry continues to expand to meet the growing demand for connectivity, so does its energy consumption. Embracing sustainable energy solutions is not only an opportunity to reduce operational costs but also a vital contribution to global sustainability goals.
Green telecom networks represent a promising future for both the telecom industry and the planet. By embracing these innovative technologies and practices, telecom operators can lead the way in creating a greener, more sustainable world. It’s a journey that aligns with global and national sustainability objectives and promises to make telecom an even more responsible and environment-friendly industry.
Lt Gen Dr S P Kochhar
The author is the Director-General of COAI.