Let’s start with some numbers*.
There are around 12.5 million installed base stations. Radio networks worldwide consume 700 TWh of energy yearly. That’s about the same as the total average annual output of the world’s 20 largest power generating facilities, including the gargantuan hydropower plants at China’s Three Gorges and Brazil’s Itaipu dams.
Operators spend an estimated EUR 72 billion per year on energy to run their base stations.
The numbers are rising too, as demand for mobile services grows. During 2015 – 2016 there was an average 3% increase in the base station population and an average 4% rise in the energy they used. Yet, operator revenues are not keeping pace, putting pressure on profitability.
An operator in South East Asia was one of those finding itself being squeezed between revenue and costs. With rising energy costs and more or less flat revenues, it asked Nokia to help optimize its network. Modernizing hardware and altering parameters enabled cost savings through de-activating some transmitters and removing some RF heads without any drop in network performance. In addition, several base station sites now use software to shut down hardware when there is no traffic.
This operator reduced power consumption by 11%
Overall, the operator is benefiting from 11% lower power consumption, CO2 emissions and diesel oil costs.
It’s a good example of how optimization and modernization can reduce network operational costs, but there are many other ways too. Monitoring energy use is a good way to identify and address excess use.
Huge gains in energy efficiency can be achieved by upgrading to the latest generation radio network infrastructure. Nokia AirScale Base Stations, for example, are highly integrated, with multiband radios and 28 Gbps baseband connectivity to reduce energy consumption. They have been shown to use 60% lower energy than legacy base stations in the field. This particular operator is considering using AirScale along with Nokia Single RAN to further improve its energy use.
Introducing more renewable energy generation, like wind and solar power, to base station sites can also deliver huge energy cost savings. And there’s plenty of scope – only 0.1% of energy used by radio sites worldwide is from solar power. With the cost of renewable technologies continuing to plummet, renewable capacity can be ramped up with gains along the way. Even a small deployment will provide a valuable return on investment by reducing the amount of grid power or diesel fuel used. Furthermore, renewable energy generation is an essential part of the journey towards zero emission networks.
With radio networks accounting for something like 80% of an operator’s total energy bill, the business case for reducing energy costs is hard to deny. The numbers couldn’t be clearer.
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* Based on analyst reports and Nokia calculations