While phone companies like Vodafone have been quick to point out how mobile networks are an under-appreciated carbon emissions killer, mobile networks are also responsible for a significant amount of energy consumption, and thus could benefit from a strong energy efficiency plan. According to a new report from GigaOM Pro (subscription required), if the world’s phone companies implement energy efficient network technology and add clean power to its base stations over the next several years, the sector could cut the equivalent of a total 101 million tons of carbon dioxide, or a decrease of 42 percent from business as usual, from its infrastructure in 2013.
Most of this opportunity lies in adding energy efficiency technology to base stations and switching centers — the network hardware and computing that manages and directs the data — given a whopping 70-80 percent of the energy consumed by the phone network is used in those places. In contrast, adding renewable energy like wind and solar to telecom base stations, is still a small and expensive, yet growing, market. Research firm In-Stat pointed out as much in a report last week which found that there will be just over 230,000 cell phone base stations powered by solar and wind in developing countries by 2014.
Interestingly, Clint Wheelock, who authored the report, says it’s actually the mobile operators that have been the ones pushing the infrastructure makers to develop more energy efficient network gear. For the operators it’s a matter of trying to save money, via smaller energy bills — as more and more cell phone customers come online and use the networks for services like data, photos and even video, the energy costs associated with running the networks are rising. It’s the same issue that Google has encountered in the Internet and data center world.
Wheelock says the mobile network infrastructure makers have not traditionally focused on providing energy efficient products because the companies have been focused on providing better performance and higher-speed networks that can deliver an ever increasing amount of bandwidth. But that’s starting to change as gear makers are listening to their customers and developing energy efficiency at both the semiconductor, radio network, and component level. Operators are also adding greener data center features to deliver lower energy costs, like free cooling, and virtualization of servers.
Image courtesy of Ericsson.