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5G Can Help Industries Reduce Carbon Emissions: MIT Report

By Mike Harrington

An MIT Technology Review Insights report published on Oct. 20 explores how 5G and other digital cellular technologies can enable the decarbonization of three of the biggest emitting industry sectors: energy, manufacturing and transportation.

Called “Decarbonizing Industries With Connectivity and 5G,” the MIT white paper, sponsored by Ericsson, draws on interviews with senior executives and subject-matter experts from organizations including Scania, Einride and Emerson. According to MIT, the report is based on insights from senior technology, business and renewable energy executives worldwide.

The report concludes that 5G and other digital mobile technologies can generate a transformational acceleration of decarbonization efforts, based on their speed of deployment, lower latency and their ability to help organizations connect and manage disparate and remote assets.

Key findings  of the include:

Some of the biggest emitting sectors are interconnected. Many organizations are interconnected through interdependent operational models and business eco-systems which already leverage shared data and insights. 5G can facilitate greater interconnected systems to allow vast amounts of data sharing across supply chains, logistics networks, and energy grids – allowing a real step change for radically lowered emissions.

Cellular digital transformation increases efficiency – and sustainability. Digital transformation strategies enable organizations in the energy, manufacturing, and transportation sectors to use energy and materials more efficiently, advance circular economy ambitions, and enhance the traceability of their products and services. 5G and other digital cellular technologies are a key part of these strategies: their speed of deployment, lower latency, and their ability to help organizations connect and manage disparate and remote assets are particularly useful capabilities for solving challenges common to all, including reducing costs, improving outputs, and lowering carbon emissions.

5G is key to generating efficiency gains and new sustainable operational processes. In addition to significant operational performance improvements, 5G and other digital mobile technologies allow organizations to achieve considerable sustainability gains by increasing energy efficiency through better monitoring or reducing waste and material costs through optimized management practices.

Governments and companies are under intense pressure to transform the way energy and materials are generated and consumed to quickly reduce carbon emissions.

In August 2021, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth report in which it unequivocally forecasts that, without substantial and immediate reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions, the world will face a series of irreversible climate tipping points, affecting everything from food production to migration patterns to the global economy.

Erik Ekudden, senior vice president and chief technology officer, Ericsson.

“Through connected technologies, the private and public sectors can harness all manner of uses and solutions to combat climate change,” said Erik Ekudden, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Ericsson. “Efficient logistics and manufacturing, renewable energy systems, and low carbon transportation are just some of the known uses. With a clear challenge in global energy consumption, effects of CO2 pollution, and inefficient use of resources we need to turn to those enabling technologies that can drive change fastest and we believe that 5G is one of our most powerful and scalable tools available to do so,” he said.

According to Ekudden’s foreword in the report: “From our involvement in the Exponential Roadmap, we know that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C is associated with halving overall global emissions by 2030. Meeting reductions of this magnitude requires ready-to-go, exponential solutions. Many such solutions are digital in nature, and feature in the Exponential Roadmap.”

Ekudden also says in the foreword: “In its conclusion, the report notes that mobile infrastructure is a unique and fundamental enabler of decarbonization. Connectivity, particularly 5G, with its ultra-low latency and high speed, enables digitalization to scale and surge.  5G acts as a platform upon which exponential digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, extended reality, and the internet of things (IoT) can flourish. With 5G, for example, we forecast the number of IoT connections to grow exponentially from 12.4 billion in 2020 to 26.4 billion in 2026.”

Meanwhile, Ericsson continues to up the ante of 5G energy efficiency. The company has engrained energy performance targets into its products and is streamlining processes in its supply chain. Last month, Bhushan Joshi, head of sustainability and corporate responsibility for Ericsson North America, told eDigest that Ericsson is well on its way to achieving a goal it set in 2017 to develop a 5G baseline that is 10 times more energy efficient (per transferred data) in 2022 than its 4G portfolio was in 2017. As of 2020, the latest quantifiable results, Ericsson reported that its 5G product portfolio is already 6.6 times more energy-efficient than 4G per transferred data.

On Sept. 27, Ericsson’s USA 5G Smart Factory in Lewisville, Texas, received its second award from the World Economic Forum (WEF) for global leadership in next-generation Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) manufacturing. WEF’s Global Lighthouse Network designated the Lewisville facility a sustainability lighthouse in recognition of successful on-site sustainability measures.

Mike Harrington is a contributing editor.