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Translating green energy into 5G success for operators

Connectivity, computing & the energy that powers them must be green to be smart.

By Jiang Junmu, C114

As we hurtle into the intelligent era, it’s time to make saving energy and reducing emissions central to our thinking – both for the planet and for bottom lines.  

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The ICT industry is the linchpin of the smart world of the future, but it’s also a heavy energy consumer and carbon emitter itself. The World Scientific and Engineering Academy and Society (WSEAS) reports that the ICT industry accounts for 2 percent of the world's total electricity consumption – a proportion that’s rising rapidly to an expected 5 percent by 2030. 

Starting at the start

5G uses just one-tenth the energy per bit of 4G. But, 5G will create a surge in power consumption due to the traffic increase that’s predicted to total dozens of times current levels. This issue can only be addressed by thinking green from the start – at the design stage – of large-scale construction.

Peng Jianhua, President of Huawei Telecom Energy, spoke to us about how Huawei has been contributing to global energy efficiency efforts. As well as reducing its own energy consumption and emissions and that of its supply chain, Huawei's Digital Power division has been providing customer-oriented green power generation and energy-efficient products and solutions, and strengthening collaboration with the industry and stakeholders.

"Energy hardware, which was a part of the support infrastructure in the past, has now become a linchpin of the network,” says Peng, adding that as 5G enters more households and is adopted by more industries, ICT will become further integrated. “The value of site energy will become self-evident. Huawei believes that connectivity and computing in the intelligent era will only make sense if it is green,” he says.

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Green is trending

As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, challenges such as climate change, melting glaciers, smog, and the collapse of biospheres aren’t going away – they’re getting worse. Fortunately, governments and international organizations have spearheaded global initiatives for energy conservation and emissions reduction. Meanwhile, technological advances have allowed us to start addressing environmental degradation.

In January 2020, the European Parliament voted to support the European Green Deal with an overwhelming majority. The aim of the European Green Deal is for the European Union to become the world's first climate-neutral bloc by reducing net CO2 emissions to zero by 2050. In 2006, the Chinese government started to include energy conservation and emissions reduction in its five-year plans, since which time it’s made solid strides.

GSMA, ITU, the Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) and the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) set science-based emission reduction targets (SBT) at the end of February 2020, committing to helping the mobile industry achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Twenty-nine operator groups, representing 30 percent of global mobile connections, have already committed to the SBTs. Vodafone has also promised to reduce its carbon footprint by half by 2025 and purchase all electricity from renewable sources.

It’s against this background that Huawei's Digital Power product line aims to provide solutions for generating green power and efficient power use to help drive industry transformation towards clean and renewable forms of energy and efficient energy utilization.

Peng says that Huawei Digital Power has four major areas of focus: photovoltaics, telecom energy, data center energy, and automotive energy. In telecom energy, its solutions integrate power electronics and digital technology to help build green network power with efficiency at three levels – components, systems, and collaboration – helping to achieve "bits manage watts" and "zero watts if zero bits" targets.

As of the first quarter of 2020, Huawei Digital Power's solutions had helped conserve a total of 273 billion kWh of electricity and reduced CO2 emissions by 170 million tons, the equivalent of planting 220 million trees.

Three levels of efficiency 

5G entered a critical stage of large-scale deployment in 2020, a year after its commercial launch. According to the latest data from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), 80 operators in 42 countries and regions had launched 3GPP-compliant commercial 5G services as of mid-May. Moreover, 384 operators were investing in 5G networks in the form of tests, trials, pilots, and planned and actual deployments. In China, 200,000 sites have been built and 800,000 are expected to be completed by the end of this year, covering more than 340 cities across the country.

4G changed life, but 5G will change society. As the key enabling technology for the fully connected, intelligent world, 5G's attributes reach far beyond ICT itself. 5G's advanced nature and the fact that its energy consumption per bit far surpasses 4G are indisputable. However, adding 5G to sites will bring a series of challenges to power supply infrastructure. These include insufficient mains grid capacity, insufficient power capacity, insufficient battery backup, and the inability to provide high-power AAU remote power supply.

3 concepts in 3 layers

"We’ve distilled our expertise and successful industry practice in 5G network evolution, materials science, and technologies in areas like power, power electronics, thermodynamics, IoT, and AI into a concept for a target telecom energy network that’s ‘simple, smart, and green',” says Peng. This covers everything from components to the network and has, he adds, culminated in “5G Power, our next-gen site power solution, and CO-MIMO, a full-scenario equipment room solution."

Rectifier efficiency is the sole focus in traditional power supply systems and, limited by structure and capability, other parts of the power supply are ignored. Setting out from components, sites, and the network, Huawei Digital Power can help build end-to-end green energy networks that can also help operators achieve 5G success.

At the component layer

Huawei’s industry-leading 98-percent efficient rectifier, heat resistant materials, and phase change cooling temperature control help save 5,000 kWh of electricity per site per year.

At the site layer 

Operators can eliminate the need for diesel generators and add solar panels in all sites, realizing at least 50 percent energy savings in typical sites, based on the following measures: 

  • Reconstructing old and inefficient sites.
  • Converting indoor sites to outdoor sites.
  • Adopting AI-powered iSolar digitalized overlaid solar cells.
  • Adopting super-fast charging.
  • Implementing intelligent network management scheduling and intelligent collaboration. 

At the network layer

Cloud-based intelligent network management allows intelligent network-wide coordination between the mains supply, power supply systems, energy storage, and loads. It can also accurately identify inefficient sites. These functions support precision energy efficiency management and energy consumption optimization at sites across the whole network.

Intelligent upgrades have been a powerful part of Huawei Digital Power's arsenal in recent years. By adopting AI, big data, and IoT, its solutions realize the real-time coordination and global management of energy and services, enabling smart power output and smart O&M for site power systems, in turn driving the full smartification of the energy network. On the power side, Huawei has developed functions such as intelligent voltage boosting, intelligent peak shaving, precision backup, precise power-off, and intelligent hybrid battery use. On the O&M front, benefits are being delivered through functions such as a digital dashboard for network-wide site power with visualized energy consumption per bit, intelligent anti-theft, and remote maintenance.

By reserving space for future capacity expansion and additional hardware, carriers can achieve smooth expansion and save costs when evolving to multi-band 5G. Huawei is enabling them to do this by making breakthroughs in the power density limit, driving constant increases in power and energy storage density. 5G Power enables 5G deployment in various scenarios without needing to modify the mains, build equipment rooms, add cabinets, or replace cables, thus helping customers rapidly deploy 5G and achieve optimal TCO.

5G Power: Site energy gets smart

At the Global ICT Energy Efficiency Summit in October 2018, Huawei unveiled the industry's first complete 5G Power solution – the best energy solution for network evolution.

According to Peng, “Traditional power solutions took piecemeal steps to treat the symptoms, not the disease”. In contrast, he says, Huawei's 5G Power uses AI and other techniques to provide a unified power supply platform for all scenarios. It supports "1 site, 1 cabinet" and "1 site, 1 blade" site construction models, which help operators build and operate 5G networks faster, more economically, and more easily. The solution will help realize a generational transformation in communications power akin to the leap from “basic sites” to “smart sites”.

In terms of energy conservation and emissions reduction, Huawei's 5G Power not only supports higher power module efficiency, but it can also reduce secondary losses by boosting voltage, increasing end-to-end energy efficiency by 3 percent. It can also help increase site energy efficiency by 5 percent thanks to precise temperature control and on-demand cooling. 

The solution also adopts a modular design and supports connections to solar power supply modules. With industry-leading maximum power point tracking (MPPT) technology, Huawei's self-developed efficient solar modules can output 30 percent more electricity than traditional solar solutions, thus using sunlight more efficiently.

Huawei's 5G Power can reduce reconstruction costs per site by more than 12,500 yuan (US$1,831), conserve 4,130 kWh of electricity per site per year, and cut carbon emissions by 1,125 kg per site per year. 5G Power scooped the Global Industry Award for Sustainable Impact at the 2019 ITU Telecom World Awards, in recognition of its outstanding contributions to energy conservation and emissions reduction in mobile networks. As of 2019, 5G Power had been deployed by 84  operators worldwide.

Smart batteries

Smart lithium batteries play a crucial role in 5G Power. In a basic site, site backup power was mainly provided by lead-acid batteries, which supplied simple backup power. In smart sites, smart lithium batteries have supplanted not only lead-acid batteries, but also ordinary lithium batteries. Smart lithium batteries are smaller, lighter, and have a longer service life. And they can be coordinated with intelligent power supplies, as well as store and recycle electricity, much like money in a bank, thus creating what Huawei has dubbed a “power bank”. In fact, a single smart lithium battery module can be as effective as two ordinary lithium battery modules.

For equipment room scenarios, Huawei's simplified CO-MIMO power solution boasts new architecture and compatibility with all standards. It offers 55-percent lower volume, 70-percent less load, 30-percent higher capacity, and an E2E efficiency boost of between 80 and 92 percent. The solution can help customers retrofit and expand the capacity of services at the original site without needing new leases, new equipment rooms, or engineering work, thereby supporting simplified evolution towards 5G for CO equipment rooms. CO-MIMO also supports connections to renewable energy, ensuring power supply for converged IT/CT equipment and MEC-ready capabilities. And its unique CO BoostLi power storage system supports a maximum of 6000A ultra-high power and comes equipped with intelligent automatic fire-extinguishing technology for lithium batteries, an industry first that maximizes system safety.

In the future, it will be necessary to further open the capabilities of site energy systems, so they can evolve from traditional communications towards site-sharing and energy-sharing, helping to maximize site energy efficiency. Huawei's industry-first super site power supply MEC solution maximizes site resource utilization to help sites evolve from communications towards multi-functional "social stations", maximizing their value and generating greater value for society.

The solution leverages intelligent integrated power supply and unified power supply architecture that's compatible with all input and output standards. It also offers flexible modularized expansion, ultra-high power supply and backup capacity, ultra-high heat treatment capacity, and class A environmental adaptability. These support the co-deployment of ICT devices and full-scenario applications.

Thanks to the large power supply and backup capacity, the MEC solution enables site power sharing – providing backup power and electric vehicle charging/power exchange for businesses and residents. Flexible multi-standard output capabilities mean sites can be leased for diverse functions such as security monitoring, disaster detection, and outdoor advertising.

“Huawei believes in openness and cooperation and actively collaborates with third-parties and industry partners,” states Peng. “Huawei was the main technical contributor to the ITU international standard for 5G power, released at the start of 2020, and was the first vendor to release a 5G Power solution that meets the standard.” 

Huawei Telecom Energy, he concludes, has led the global development of site energy technology thanks to its tireless innovation – and it’s only through continuous technological innovation that we can hope to make energy greener and society better.