Mobile operators need more reliable access to renewable energy
GSMA analysis shows that mobile operators are making progress in using renewable energy but says more effort must be made to increase supplies if they are to meet net zero carbon emission goals by 2050.
New research from the GSMA shows operators are making “meaningful progress” in the use of renewable electricity. However, outside Europe and North America, getting access to renewable sources is difficult for operators in many regions due to regulatory uncertainty or lack of investment.
Renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, is an important part of operators’ carbon emission reduction strategies. Today, 18% of the electricity used by mobile operators around the world is from renewables, according to the GSMA. This should be at least 50% by 2030 if operators are to meet net zero targets, but the current supply of renewable energy cannot meet their demands.
The amount of renewable energy usage varies considerably according to region. European operators, for example, purchase on average 71% renewable energy, while mobile networks in 29 countries use less than 25%. The GSMA’s analysis is based on data from 33 operators, covering 86 countries and approximately 50% of global mobile connections.
The GSMA estimates that to meet the 50% target operators globally will need access to an additional 64 terawatt-hours (TWh) of renewable electricity by 2030, which it says is about the same as the amount of energy that Austria uses in a year.
While operators in Europe and North America are the most advanced in terms of renewable electricity usage, many operators struggle to access the renewable sources they need in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America.
The GSMA highlighted some of the barriers that prevent renewable energy expansion and investment in these regions and has proposed ways to overcome them in a new policy paper. The most common challenges include lack of transmission, distribution and grid infrastructures, as well as regulatory environments that do not support Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) linked to independent power producers (IPP) and mobile operators.
The GSMA is calling for “greater collaboration between the private and public sector to expand the renewable energy infrastructure needed to hit our net zero ambitions”, said John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA. “This will require reducing regulatory barriers, supporting market-based mechanisms to access renewable electricity and incentivising investment in new renewable power generation.”
Vodafone seeks self-powering sites
Vodafone is one of the operators in Europe that has scaled up its renewable energy use over the last several years. Since July 2021, Vodafone’s entire European network, data centers and operations across 11 countries have been powered by renewable electricity. In the UK, where the operator targets net zero operations by 2027, this has helped to reduce operational carbon emissions by 77% as of March 2022, compared to a 2019 baseline, which amounts to 71,675 tonnes of CO2e.
More recently, the operator has turned its attention to developing “self-powering” sites for rural locations that do not need to be connected to national electricity grids. In June, Vodafone UK switched on its first wind- and solar-powered 4G mobile site in Pembrokeshire in Wales. The mast is fitted with a wind turbine, solar panels and on-site battery storage.
Vodafone Group is looking for more solutions like this and launched a “Renewable Power Challenge” earlier this year to find new companies to work with, as it aims to avoid using on-site fossil fuels to power sites in remote areas or where there is no access to the electricity grid.
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