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Telenor’s Green Connection

At the 2021 Better World Summit, Tanveer Mohammad, SVP and Head of Global Operations for Telenor, explored the operator’s clean energy strategy.

By Tanveer Mohammad, SVP, Head of Global Operations, Telenor
WinWin Issue 40

For the last three years, I have been focusing on energy efficiency and finding the right solutions for the many challenges we face.

Just as the world went through the industrial revolution, we are now going through the telecommunications revolution, from 2G, 3G, and 4G up to 5G, which we are embarking on today. However, innovation also means higher energy use. We are emitting more carbon into the environment and the temperature of our mother earth is rising. If things continue as they are, it won’t be long before many of us are living under sea level.

So as global citizens, this must be addressed. Telenor is ensuring its own contribution by increasing green energy use and optimizing its own demand for energy. As we cannot work alone on a global level, we have been working with partners to take climate commitments seriously, with science-based targets leading their operations.

3 scopes of emissions

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol sets three scopes for carbon emissions. Scope 1 comprises direct emissions. We run huge networks across various geographies and, to reduce electricity usage, we are committed to modernizing our networks. We aim to use high-efficiency rectifiers and batteries to minimize system loss and deploy all available power-saving features that are available. We also plan to apply advanced AI and machine learning solutions wherever possible, remove unnecessary components like air conditioners and cooling cabinets, and move towards outdoor sites solutions.

Scope 2 covers indirect emissions caused from purchasing electricity. If we use a grid in a country that burns coal, we in turn emit a lot carbon into nature. Our goal is to aquire energy from greener sources, preferably as part of a long-term agreement, and opt for renewable sources like solar where possible.

Scope 3 is about suppliers. Huawei is one of our biggest partners, so we have to ensure that Huawei also takes its own green operations very seriously, with clear targets and a structured approach to realizing them. 

As consumers now enjoy a much better network and data experience, the increase in energy consumed by networks creates a much larger carbon footprint. We need to balance technology advances with intelligent energy to flatten the curve.

For Telenor, energy-based cost is an increasing trend year-on-year owing to the increase in energy demand and the global increase in fuel prices. In Asia in particular, there’s a huge dependency on fuel-based energy, requiring high diesel-generator hours and the burning of fossil fuels. But the price of fuel is increasing exponentially in almost every market. This affects both the environment and profitability. 

Knowing the problem

We launched project Thunderbolt in 2019 and started by delineating energy-use based on regions. In Asia, energy usage accounts for 20% to 24% of total technology operating costs compared to 10% to 11% in Nordic operations. To improve, we need to have a strong control on energy demand and supply. 

If our network equipment becomes more efficient, energy demand goes down. Site modernization, including avoiding the use of air conditioners, which are crucial but don’t yield any meaningful value to the network, cuts down demand. Reducing system loss and boosting efficiency optimizes demand. Data centers and the tools used in day-to-day operations for energy help to optimize demand in a good way.

Similarly, on the supply side, if we obtain energy from inefficient sources, like diesel generators, energy usage increases compared to using the grid system. Using more renewable energy like solar and wind will help optimize energy supply and reduce CO2 emissions Unfortunately, there are areas where we operate in parts of Asia that have no grid availability, or they are very unstable and can provide only around four to seven hours of electricity a day. If we can work towards addressing these issues, we can optimize our energy usage further.

Under project Thunderbolt, we tried to address energy-related challenges. 2020 was the first year where we were able to reduce network-based energy consumption by 1.54%, a year-to-year increase of 7% to 8% despite a 30% to 40% growth in data traffic.

If you have the right kind of partnerships with key players, then the challenges are much easier to address. With the introduction of 5G technology we are adding enormous capacity to networks – between three and four times as much. This impacts our demand for energy. The initial forecast has been a 9% to 10% increase in energy consumption, but what we are seeing is that if we work together, it’s possible to limit the increase in demand by a considerable amount.

With Huawei, we’ve been working in Finland to roll out 5G. Using AI- and machine learning-based features, we can limit the energy demand to low levels, around 3% to 4%. 

In 2022, with network investment and forecasted data growth, energy demand is expected to grow, which implies that we must collaborate across the industry and learn from each other. Network modernization and phasing out legacy networks needs to be carried out to balance energy demand. Cloud-based capabilities and advanced RAN-based features will provide further efficiency in networks with the help of partners. 

So far, we have installed more than 3,000 solar-powered base stations across our operations, and we are working to deploy more solar and wind solutions coupled with power purchase agreements with green suppliers. The renewables ecosystem is not quite mature in the Nordic area, and even less so in Asia. But by 2025, we should start seeing renewable technologies mature in Asia.

From partners like Huawei, we have many expectations. We have seen that the major source of demand across any network is the RAN, which means our distributed base stations. So, we need innovative RAN solutions with high energy efficiency from our partners. We also need advanced AI and machine learning capabilities to deliver advanced network features that can maximize efficiency. And we need innovations in energy supply and management, including high-efficiency rectifiers, batteries, and environmental control systems.

We expect our partners to embark on this journey with us, set scientific targets for their own operations, and address the increase in energy consumption from the demand and supply sides. While this is very challenging, we must work together for a green world.