19-08-2020 | By Robin Mitchell
According to cellular carrier O2, 5G will help save CO2 and the environment in general. In this article, we will examine their vague 5G environmental impact claims, and try to understand how this may be the case.
It is widely understood that taking care of the environment is essential for both the planet and for those that live on it. While individuals such as Elon Musk look towards the stars for their salvation, others believe that the solution is closer to home. As strange as it may seem, some even believe that the key to improving the environment and reversing the damage caused by the changing climate can be found in the next generation of cellular technology. Recently, telecom O2 announced that they believe that 5G technology will help the green economy, and result in a reduction of overall CO2 or carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas contributing to global climate change) emissions. The report produced by O2 claims that utilities and home energy could see the removal of up to 181 megatons of CO2, 43 megatons from the automotive industry, and 40 megatons from manufacturing by 2035. But how can wireless technology provide such reductions?
5G is a wireless technology that provides many advantages over its predecessors, including higher download rates, the ability to connect to more devices, and lower ping. While devices with 5G capabilities may consume less energy than those using older technologies, this is not why 5G would help the environment. The use of 5G will see more Internet of Things (IoT) devices and as such, more substantial energy consumption from the IoT and smart sector. However, it is the smart capabilities of those devices, and the ability to communicate via 5G, that will contribute towards reductions in CO2 production. So, what is the potential 5G environmental impact?
According to O2, 5G will help to remove 181 megatons of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2035. Such a feat will most likely come from smart meters and power storage solutions that will link excess production of renewable energy to home storage systems and demand. For example, an electric car plugged into the mains has a battery with storage capability. 5G connected sensors to the grid may detect that renewable energies (such as wind and solar), are producing far too much (and thus cannot be stored). From there connected cars could be signalled to take on the extra load (with an incentive for cheap electricity), and thus non-renewable sources can be powered down. During times of low renewable energy, those same connected vehicles could sell back their electricity at a premium to prevent the need for using non-renewable factories. Smart meters may also help to reduce CO2 by providing live data on domestic electrical usage, and from there, engineers can get a better understanding of how demand changes, and target critical areas for specialised power systems (such as energy storage facilities).
The automotive industry is tied to 5G will only help to reduce CO2 by either removing the number of cars on the road or by intelligently controlling traffic to ensure that vehicles are not held in queues. Removing cars from the road will most likely occur as a result of remote working; if people can work from home then there is no need for a vehicle, and thus CO2 is not being produced getting workers to work. This will be possible thanks to the high speeds, the low-latency connection provided by 5G to its users (especially those who are more rural). With its faster network speeds and lower latency, 5G could prove a disruptor to traditional home Internet connections.
The use of 5G in vehicles could provide authorities with live data on where cars are. This data, if fed into artificial intelligence (AI) traffic controller, could control entire networks more intelligently to minimise CO2 production. By stopping a few cars at one junction to allow a hundred form another, or by interchanging traffic controls on roads joining motorways could ease congestion and therefore reduce CO2 production from large queues. Such practices could also help to move CO2 production away from inner cities, thereby increasing the air quality and offering a means of 5G lessening climate change (however, this does not reduce the overall CO2 production).
Smart manufacturing, according to O2, will save 40 megatons, but exactly how this will be achieved is not entirely clear. Energy saving methods, such as those described in the home energy savings paragraph above, could help a facility reduce its energy consumption by tying in demand to times of excess renewable energy in the grid. CO2 could also be overcome with the use of virtual floor operators, who can work remotely and thus not require transportation. However, CO2 savings in the manufacturing sector may come from a result of 5G networks providing easy interconnectivity which can work more intelligently together to reduce waste and improve efficiency. For example, a 5G network could provide an easy to access network for self-driving autonomous robots that move goods from one floor to another. 5G provides the possibility for all devices in a single facility to communicate on the same network, and the ability to easily roam from one cell network to another allows for vast scale operations covering hundreds of miles to communicate with each other instantly.
Saving CO2 in smart cities would be easily achievable thanks to the use of 5G. One example of how 5G might have an environmental impact would be smart street lights. Pedestrians only require a minimal amount of light, while fast moving cars require brighter lights. 5G networks could track vehicle locations, and adjust the power to individual streetlights as needed, thereby saving energy on unneeded lights. This, in turn, reduces overall electrical demand, and thus reduces CO2 emissions by non-renewable plants.
Claiming that 5G will affect the environment is a bold claim when considering that many other wireless technologies could achieve the same task. However, most other technologies do not have the same advantages presented by 5G such as the large download speeds, low-latency, high device count, and ability for roaming between different cells without reconnects.