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Helping telcos boost energy efficiency

David Wilson

David Wilson

Global Offering Director for Telecom & Solar Energy Solutions at Vertiv
Image credit: BAIVECTOR / Shutterstock.com

For telcos around the world, sustainability is firmly at top of the agenda. Telecom operators are well aware that 5G will drive unprecedented increases in data traffic and thus energy consumption across the network – and that’s just one item on a growing list of reasons why today’s telcos are increasingly focused on energy reduction and carbon responsibility.

The good news is that there’s a solid foundation on which to work – telcos have already made strides in tackling how much energy they use. The industry has been deploying hybrid energy systems for decades and was an early adopter of solar power, albeit in limited, specific applications.

Today, telcos are increasingly looking outside of their own operations, tackling what are known as ‘Scope 3’ emissions – those which come from businesses’ partners along the supply chain. Indeed, to tackle ‘Scope 3’ telecom operators are increasingly working closely with their suppliers, using transparency measures and communicating their priorities.

However, whilst the industry should certainly be commended for these efforts, there’s still plenty of work to be done – and a increasing impetus to get sustainability ‘right’. So, what near and longer term strategies can telcos deploy to help boost energy efficiency and make even more strides in achieving sustainability?

Transitioning to high efficiency rectifiers

There are many large scale initiatives in the works to power a more sustainable future. For example, the widespread shift to renewable energy is being accelerated through power purchase agreements (PPAs). These comprehensive arrangements assure the developer of a renewables project that it will be able to sell the power it generates in future and provide the buyer with a stable, fixed price, as well as renewable energy credits.

In addition to these industry wide programmes, there are also a number of immediate steps that individual operators can take to support the transition to a more sustainable, greener future.

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 five to 6%.

What’s more, modern equipment frequently includes energy saving modes and features that are too often ignored or unappreciated. Today’s DC power systems, for example, are more intelligent and capable of more advanced energy management than legacy systems, but in many instances operators don’t harness those functions, favouring static operation. We urge operators to make the most of these systems’ capabilities.

Match energy strategies to your access site

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.

It is of course an overstatement to say that every site is unique – but it’s important to ensure the nuances of the geography aren’t ignored, and build strategies accordingly.

Use intelligent controls to manage the load

Today, thanks to the latest innovations in technology, comprehensive real-time monitoring of AC and DC power network infrastructure is possible.

Intelligent controllers are available with advanced load management functionalities that enable telcos to visualise potential hotspots, power performance, and distribution inefficiencies in order to optimise the DC power supply, maximise the use of cooling and avoid overload.

By proactively managing the load, operators can identify the location and power profile of every rack at a given site. This ability to map the site’s power distribution and thermal output, enables operators to move the load from one rack to another to improve airflow and optimise thermal management. With effective load management tools, high availability can be achieved whilst improving energy efficiencies and saving costs.

Developing a long-term strategy that delivers

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 – as well as the industry wide initiatives – we’re seeing many individual operators take proactive 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. Indeed, telcos are engaging with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), through telco sustainability initiatives and company strategy. The 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) were set up in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly and agreed upon by all 193 Member States. They are intended to be realised by the year 2030 and provide a ‘blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.’

So, the future looks bright, and when it comes to specific initiatives on the horizon, 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 to look at closely 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.

Given the technology innovation and the bright minds working in the industry, we look ahead at what’s to come with great anticipation and excitement.

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