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Zero Emission Mobile Networks

Reducing CO2 emissions and cost of energy

Why is it time to aim for net zero networks?

At COP26, the United Nations asked countries to commit to ambitious targets that help them reach net zero by latest 2050. The first step is halving global emissions by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

Societies and companies are now in the middle of a green transition, decarbonizing energy sources and aiming to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

To make net zero possible, it is also necessary to reduce both the energy consumption and emission factor of used electricity.

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How can digitalization impact carbon footprint?

Digitalization makes societies more efficient, wealthier and enables better life for people. At the same time, increasing digitalization means higher traffic and energy consumption in mobile networks, which in turn can lead to higher CO2 emissions. This can increase the carbon footprint of the mobile industry.

The other side of the coin is the carbon handprint - the reduction of the carbon footprint of other industries with digitalization. Innovative technology solutions have a critical role to play in accelerating digitalization and in helping industries and governments meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In fact, in its Enablement Effect report, the GSMA estimated that while mobile networks contribute about 0.4% to global emissions, the use of mobile technology enabled a global reduction in GHG emissions, which was almost ten times greater than the generated carbon footprint. That positive impact is set to double by 2025.

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Nokia CEO and President Pekka Lundmark discusses the role of technology in the green energy transition on the sidelines of the #COP26 meeting in Glasgow with CNBC’s Julianna…

What are the key sources of CO2 in mobile networks?

Throughout the lifecycle of radio networks, 93% of CO2 emissions are borne when the networks are in use, and about 8% are created in manufacturing and transportation. At the end of life, emissions are reduced by 1%.

Base station sites account for over 80% of the use phase emissions. Running idle resources and cooling systems consume a significant part of the energy. This means that energy-efficient radio network products can make a considerable difference.

Recycling the used equipment at the end of life typically reduces the C02 emissions by 1%. There is a great opportunity to reach higher efficiency when circularity is built into the product lifecycle.

It is also important to factor in the carbon intensity of the used energy. An example of a country where all 5G radio networks are run by using zero carbon grid power is Finland. Decarbonization of energy sources is one of the key elements in reaching global net zero targets.

How to address the challenges in reaching zero emissions?

With the legacy networks, we are used to seeing use phase emissions increase when the network traffic increases. However, with new innovative technologies like 5G, the situation is different.

How to decouple traffic growth from energy growth?

The ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) mandates that 5G networks must carry 100 times more traffic without increasing their energy consumption compared to previous radio access technologies. 5G is in fact the only generation of mobile technology that can decouple energy consumption from traffic growth.

5G has three key technology improvements, which contribute to enabling the traffic growth without increasing energy consumption:

  • lean frame structure
  • massive MIMO with beam forming
  • new 5G spectrum

In addition, regulators are offering the possibility to re-farm legacy 2G/3G/4G spectrum for 5G use. The broader your 5G spectrum assets are, from low bands to mid bands and to high bands, the lower is the electricity consumption because the need for densification is smaller.

How to improve base station energy efficiency?

About 80% of a mobile network’s energy is consumed by base station sites. Mobile operators report an overall increase of 10-30% annually in mobile network energy use. Managing energy efficiency is necessary to control the costs while maintaining the service level that end users are expecting. In fact, Nokia Intelligent RAN energy efficiency management reduces radio network energy consumption by up to 15%.

Indoor base station sites typically consists of base station equipment, cooling system and ancillary systems like X-haul transport. They each consume about one third of the site energy. In addition, the installation, commissioning, and manual-intensive operations such as site visits cause emissions. Reducing manual task and increasing automation with zero-touch commissioning and operations helps reduce emissions significantly. This also includes automating the sleep modes of base station resources at low and zero traffic conditions instead of handling such tasks manually.

In a typical scenario, 80% of the energy consumed by telecom equipment is converted to waste heat, and the waste is transferred outdoors by inefficient air-cooling systems. With liquid cooling, it is possible to recycle the waste heat and reduce base station C02 emissions by 80%.

Are energy efficient networks expensive?

The costs are driven up by the old way of building networks with dedicated 2G/3G/4G/5G base stations and software releases, and air cooling. Increasing digitalization and use of mobile data will multiply the traffic tenfold by 2030, which can lead to expanding costs.

Adding the new 5G radio to existing 2G/3G/4G sites causes incremental double-digit growth in energy consumption. But the share of the new 5G radio is typically much smaller than legacy old 2G/3G/4G radios share of total consumed site energy.

5G can reduce total costs per delivered traffic, and typical payback time for modernization of base station sites is two to three years. Reduced energy consumption not only lowers your energy bill, but also makes it more cost-effective to deploy green energy sources for net zero operations.

Nokia can help you on the path to sustainable future

At Mobile World Congress 2022, Nokia launched commercially the first in the world liquid-cooled AirScale Base station portfolio, which can reduce the cooling system power consumption by 90%. It also includes an innovative waste heat capture mechanism. The waste heat is captured into the liquid and there is an option to circulate the heat for other purposes such as building heating, or to sell it to other parties. This reduces base station CO2 emissions by 80%.

An additional benefit comes from implementing Baseband Hotel architecture, which can yield 80% reduction in the energy consumption of a baseband unit compared to traditional base station sites. Baseband Hotel sites are ideal for liquid cooling because of the significant need for cooling and the opportunity to maximize the waste heat capture for building heating.

Modernization of the legacy 2G/3G/4G base stations with modern Single RAN software and hardware while rolling-out new 5G radios can compensate for adding new radio sites, as the modern equipment consumes less energy with advanced sleep mode software features. The sleep mode optimization can be automated by Intelligent energy savings management enabled by machine-learning algorithms.

The transport X-haul emissions can be further be reduced by energy-saving innovations in our Wavence microwave radio portfolio. 

Additionally, our Digital Services portfolio from planning and optimization to digital collaboration platforms, workflow orchestration systems and pre-integrated site solutions significantly reduces the amount of site visits needed to complete deployment and acceptance of every single 5G site. In turn, it reduces the amount of related C02 emissions. 

Nokia is introducing over 20 innovative solutions and services to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption

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