Steven Moore, Head of Climate Action at the GSMA and Mobile Sector Lead for the Climate Champions, talks about the three Cs at the heart of COP27, and how the mobile industry is contributing to the fight against climate change
In my role as Head of Climate Action at GSMA, last year I was privileged to attend the recent COP27 climate conference in Egypt, joining conversations with global impact, and hear talks from some of the brightest minds on the planet. As we look ahead to COP28 this year, I’m keen to discuss the output of COP27, examining the important role the mobile industry must play in helping to enable the change that’s needed to protect our climate.
One of the biggest messages to come out of COP27 was that there’s still a great deal to be done for the world to stand a chance at meeting any of its climate targets and, ultimately, to achieve the aspirational goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C. As the global industry body representing a very influential sector, the GSMA takes our role in helping the environment extremely seriously – bringing relevant parties together through collaboration, focusing activity on impactful action and clear measurement, and advising on the most innovative technologies to help solve some of the biggest climate challenges.
The mobile industry has always been at the forefront of climate action and the fight to reduce carbon emissions. Mobile was one of the first industries to commit to achieving Net Zero by 2025 and mobile operators – our members – are among the companies making the strongest progress in this arena; many are already using 100% renewable energy across their networks, whilst others are driving hard towards that goal.
So, what are the next steps for the mobile industry when it comes to tackling climate change? The conversations at this year’s conference largely boiled down to three things. I call them the three Cs: Carbon, Cost and Crisis. In this article, I’ll be looking at the way the GSMA and our mobile operator members have, and will, navigate the three Cs to challenge climate change head-on.
Of course, one of the central discussions at COP27 was how businesses worldwide can come together to keep the 1.5C target alive. Meeting this goal requires all carbon emissions to be halved by 2030 and eliminated entirely by 2050. With emissions still rising year on year, there’s a lot to be done to change the trajectory.
The mobile industry is arguably leading the way in this area – maximising the use of renewable energy across their networks. Our latest stats show that mobile networks in 41 out of 86 countries worldwide are using more than 75% renewable energy. European networks were especially thriving in this space; they’re purchasing on average 71% renewable energy.
A strong example of this is Vodafone’s recently announced power purchasing agreement to buy renewable energy generated by three new solar farms in the UK. We know that, to hit net zero ambitions while meeting the scale of demand, there will need to be greater collaboration between the private and public sector to expand renewable energy infrastructure. Vodafone’s announcement shows that coordinated action with national policymakers and energy generators is possible to ensure that more renewable energy can be rapidly added to electricity grids over the next decade.
Another pressing matter at this year’s COP was the rapidly rising cost of energy. Many countries across Europe were dependent on the fossil fuels coming from Russia and, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia was able to dictate the cost of energy, which had been rising exponentially since the pandemic. Since the invasion, energy prices have risen even more sharply, with imports from Russia thought to be costing Europe at least €1 billion a day.
Another argument for the use of renewable energy is cost. Renewables can be generated and managed in-country, providing energy security, and significantly reducing the reliance on fossil fuels from Russia. To achieve this, most countries need to invest in infrastructure, not only to generate enough renewable energy, but to store and distribute that energy – in the case of mobile, to far-reaching networks of cell towers.
Once again, success in this area requires collaboration. At the moment, the GSMA predicts that the mobile industry will require 64TW hours of renewable energy, above and beyond current supply, by 2030. That’s the equivalent of the annual energy use of country the size of Austria. It requires a considerable transition: shifting away from a global system that is currently 84% dependent on fossil fuels.
With Russia the subject of international sanctions, and European gas supplies at risk, the region is facing its biggest energy crisis in decades.
We don’t know how long this crisis will last – it is unlikely to be a short-term issue. If more isn’t done to manage our energy use, we could be facing outages this winter. However, in the longer-term it’s a further sign that in a time of significant geopolitical tensions, we’re too reliant on fossil fuels and cross-border co-operation that may be a thing of the past.
Investment in on-shore renewable energy generation, as well as digitalisation of national grid networks – can help governments and energy companies identify, and respond to, any situations as they arise in the future, using national resources.
Investing in infrastructure – Smart Energy Systems
Switching to renewable energy can be the solution to all of the three Cs, but we need to modernise and digitalise national grid systems to ensure they are a success.
To date, a lot of discussions have focused on renewable technologies such as solar, wind, tidal and hydropower in their own right. But we’ll need to bring all of them together to create enough power to meet current levels of energy demand. Unlike with fossil fuels, it’s harder to dial up renewable energy into the grid to meet surges at peak times, so we’re working closely with energy companies and governments on a solution to help everyone better understand how energy is used and when. Initially, we’ll need to supplement renewables with fossil fuels at peak times, but eventually the goal is to transition to 100% renewables. This is where Smart Energy Systems (SES) come in.
SES are a new solution, which combine energy generation and storage technologies with ‘intelligent’ applications, controlling and optimising their usage. They will be key to meeting targets from companies and governments increasingly aiming for net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
A SES is based on connectivity – mobile connectivity, in particular. That’s why we’re putting ourselves at the core of their creation, and are working with energy companies and MNOs to deploy them. The mobile sector will be essential to providing the backbone infrastructure for SES, which work using wireless connectivity to combine multiple solar farms, or thousands of homes with small-scale renewables or storage systems. Cloud computing helps us manage the systems – and AI platforms are added to control and optimise the use and storage of renewable energy resources, and work out if energy needs to be pulled from the grid at optimal times. Gradually the systems keep building the most optimal network for renewable supply and demand until we can fully decarbonise and retire fossil-fuels from the existing energy mix.
Getting SES up and running will boil down to three key steps, with wireless connectivity running through all of them: maximising the lifetime power output of renewable generation assets, minimising excessive energy consumption through end-use and transmission, and optimising load shifting and energy storage to align clean power supply and demand.
It’ll be no mean feat, but if we can implement SES, the benefits are potentially enormous. For one thing, we’ll prevent an overbuild of capacity worth 16,000TWh of annual generation. Based on today’s electricity prices, this will save approximately $1.9 trillion per year. And, on top of that, compared to today’s energy mix, an SES infrastructure will save emissions of 7.7 billion tons of CO2, making it responsible for over 23 per cent of global decarbonisation. It’s why GSMA is so passionate about these systems. It’s my hope that by next year’s COP, the industry will have made even more tangible steps towards their introduction, and laid the foundation for a true, mobile technology-based solution to help Europe navigate the three Cs.
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