There have been many misconceptions on green development and the ICT industry, which is holding back progress on the ultimate goal of running completely sustainable businesses, for the benefit of the planet.
This was the view of Huawei Carrier Business Group CMO Dr Phillip Song who highlighted the five biggest misconceptions on green development at the Huawei Day0 event.
Green development has always been an ICT industry goal but misconceptions have arisen over the last few years about the industry. The first major misconception is that the ICT industry will contribute greatly to increasing carbon emission levels, but according to a report from the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), the ICT industry will only contribute to 1.97% of carbon emissions by 2030 as technologies evolve.
Song stressed how innovations in the ICT industry will enable other sectors to “significantly” reduce their carbon footprints. In the next eight years, the ICT industry has the potential to reduce global emissions by 20%, which is 10 times the carbon emission emitted by the ICT industry itself.
Effectively, Song argued this will “decouple” economic growth from emission growth. Huawei calls this ICT enablement and it increases a company’s ‘carbon handprint’ as opposed to their carbon footprint.
Song pointed to an example of the ICT industry reducing carbon emission is through data back-ups. To upload and back up 100 petabytes of data, firms would upload onto a large disc array and physically transport it in a lorry, resulting in 300kg of carbon emissions. But through using all optical transmission technology in cloud computing only 20kg will be emitted.
If all data was backed up on the cloud and used optical transmissions, over 120 million tons of CO2 emissions could be saved annually, which is equal to planting 200 million trees, enough to afforest the whole of Europe.
The second misconception is over focusing on supply chain emissions from the production of network equipment such as base stations. Only 2% of carbon emissions come from manufacturing, however 80% to 90% of emissions come from using the equipment. Song argued the focus should be on the use of equipment through innovative technologies.
Another major misconception is the belief that solar and renewable energy power sources are the ultimate goal to being truly sustainable. There are incredible challenges to taking a power intensive industry such as ICT to being 100% reliant on renewable energy, which is presently not sustainable, said Song.
However, ICT supply chains are actually more green than assumed and this is projected to improve. According to a GSMA report, the proportion of energy use by ICT supply chains will be 45% renewable (30% solar and 15% wind) by 2030.
Song noted that more work is needed on the consumer side as only 1% of telecom tower power sources was renewable in 2021. Song presented a three-layer architecture strategy to tackle this larger problem, involving the use of better technology in data centres, optical cables, and migrating users to 4G and 5G networks.
To illustrate his point Song showcased how if 10% of 2G/3G users migrated to 4/5G, a 2% energy saving can be achieved. To further illustrate his point, he noted on a 3G connection 30 HD movies can be downloaded, whereas 5G can be used to download 5000 movies of the same quality. Both processes would take 1 kilowatt per hour. Overall, consumers will see the benefits of a faster connection and operators can save more energy.
The fourth misconception is believing making each piece of telecoms equipment will result in overall energy efficiency, a thinking Song said is false. He argued this narrow-minded belief prevents companies from thinking of the wider picture for long term sustainability.
Huawei proposed for a jointly defined unified energy indicator system to drive energy flows in tandem with information flow, which will result in energy savings for an entire network, instead of a certain part.
For example, if firms only considered energy efficiency of wireless master equipment, they won’t be able effectively complete the planning of another segment of the network, argued Song.
The final misconception is that energy saving will massively hinder network performance. Song conceded there will be a small sacrifice in peak rates and some other indicators for vital sustainability targets, however it is negligible. Operators can for example shut down some operations at night when data traffic is low to save power, this will admittedly lower download speeds but only marginally and still yield a good service for consumers still active.
Song concluded by stating everyone from all walks of society can benefit from a digitally enabled green future. The future should be shaped by more data “bits” and less “watts”.