Paid Feature Growing large-scale deployments of 5G base stations and data centres – known to be heavy consumers of energy – are making carbon emissions a serious impediment to the development of the ICT industry.
In response, major operators and Internet giants have taken on the responsibility to build zero-carbon networks and achieve carbon neutrality. ITU statistics in 2020 show that the ICT industry empowered various industries to reduce about 7.8 G tons of equivalent carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, accounting for 15% of the total annual emissions.
In the same year, more than 120 countries/regions proposed carbon neutrality targets under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Specifically, China aims to reach peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and achieve the goal of carbon neutrality by 2060. By 2030, China’s CO2 emissions per unit of GDP would drop by more than 65% from 2005.
However, it is challenging for traditional network energy technologies and construction modes to meet the requirements for low-carbon and zero-carbon networks as well as operators’ sustainable development.
The good news is that 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and emerging technologies are helping to accelerate the digital transformation of traditional network energy infrastructure. The entire energy supply chain – from power generation to power consumption – is becoming intelligent.
“The network that consists of telecom sites, equipment rooms and data centres is now not only a high-speed data communication network, but also an efficient energy supply network,” says Mr. Zhang Wanchun, Senior Vice President of ZTE Corporation.
For example, ZTE delivers millions of base stations every year as a core supplier of wireless system equipment. Even small emission-reducing innovations on each base station would yield considerable reductions in overall emissions. Further, advances in big data technology have encouraged AI adoption in wireless network planning, construction, operations and maintenance that boost network power efficiency and energy savings.
Zero Carbon energy network
In transforming the energy infrastructure, ZTE has proposed the Zero Carbon energy network, which is concerned with not only network energy consumption but also green electricity applications, network energy efficiency, and smart O&M.
“ZTE’s Zero Carbon energy network taps on key technologies like intelligent solar energy, efficient conversion, intelligent energy storage, intelligent power distribution, and intelligent thermal control,” says Mrs. Liu Mingming, Director of Energy Department at ZTE. “The network focuses on simplified site, green equipment room, prefabricated full-module data centre, and cloud energy management.”
The Zero Carbon network is managed by a melding of cloud computing, AI and big data analytics. ZTE is exploiting the powerful synergies between cloud and network to deliver higher network efficiencies and lower energy consumption to meet the diverse needs of operators and vertical industries.
For example, ZTE’s PowerPilot multi-layer AI platform saves power based on wireless network traffic and services. It effectively balances between network performance and energy savings. This creates the potential to increase the efficacy of smart energy-saving solutions to reduce operators’ OpEx. In Tianjin, for instance, PowerPilot has enabled operators to save more than 4 million kWh of electricity per year, which is equivalent to reducing carbon emissions by more than 2,000 tons.
Strategically, the Zero Carbon energy network promotes four technology-based developments in the ICT industry’s energy infrastructure:
Intelligent solar: This combines solar energy with power storage, cloud energy management and AI to provide green electricity for sites, equipment rooms, data centres and the entire industrial park. The smooth superposition of solar energy in all scenarios optimises power supply costs, improves O&M efficiency and accelerates the application of green energy to the whole network.
Prioritising solar energy reduces grid electricity usage while solar on-site controllers and inverters allow for flexible deployment. Use-case benefits include green power supply for industrial parks; smart grid peak-valley shifting to save electricity cost; and solar storage that compensates transformer capacity to delay device upgrade.
Intelligent lithium batteries: ZTE is tapping on core technologies such as power conversion, intelligent measurement and control, thermal design and cloud management to bring digital intelligence to ordinary lithium batteries.
Intelligent mixed use, smart voltage boosting, smart power grid shaving and cloud management transform lithium batteries from common energy storage to intelligent energy sources of the whole network. This innovation brings out the value of the full lifecycle of energy storage.
Simplified 5G power supply: This enables simplified site construction, construction of indoor sites as outdoor sites, and one-cabinet usage for outdoor sites, and then completes the evolution to All-Pad mode. The sites that use ZTE Pad base stations can potentially improve energy efficiency to higher than 95%.
Further, ZTE’s proposed simplified sites focus on measures such as the conversion of equipment rooms to cabinets, cabinets to pole stations, and city grid to green power. These measures aim to reduce room rental and electricity costs. Carbon emissions are also expected to decrease by 25% to 30%.
Modular and prefabricated data centre: This concept spans the whole process of design, production and construction. It shortens construction time by 40%. At the initial stage, investment cost is reduced by 30% and Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) is less than 1.25.
Modular structures also include high-voltage data centre components, indirect evaporative cooling ACs, and close heat channel modules. The solution has reduced partial PUE down to 1.05, enabling an improved energy-saving efficiency of up to 60% compared to traditional data centre solutions.
ZTE has laid out more than 500 green 5G patents on technologies that increase efficiency and reduce consumption. The company continues to increase basic research in new energy, new materials and new devices to help operators benefit from its plan for sustainable 5G development.
ZTE continues to integrate innovations in 5G, cloud computing and AI as well as Internet of Things to drive further digitisation-intelligence development of the network energy infrastructure and help operators build end-to-end low-carbon and zero-carbon networks.
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