Ericsson has demonstrated a new solar and battery-powered proof-of-concept 5G site in the US that fits with its own sustainability goals as well as those of its operator customers.

Mary Lennighan

July 12, 2023

4 Min Read
Ericsson solar site

Ericsson has demonstrated a new solar and battery-powered proof-of-concept 5G site in the US that fits with its own sustainability goals as well as those of its operator customers.

And as well as powering a base station with renewable energy, and using software to help keep costs down, the site also affords operators the ability to create new revenue streams from the electricity they generate.

The new site is located in Plano, Texas. Ericsson describes its as a complete energy-smart network solution that demonstrates how energy-efficient technology and solutions can be integrated with the use of renewable energy sources. It can be fully operated by solar energy, complemented by integrated Lithium-ion batteries, for up to 24 hours, as well as featuring advanced energy-management tools.

To help telcos better manage their energy consumption it has capabilities such as load shifting, demand response, and peak shaving, the last being a method of reducing power consumption quickly for a short period to avoid a sudden spike in usage, and not actually anything to do with grooming one’s facial hair. It can also take advantage of the best electricity prices – charging the battery when rates are low – which is also good news for telcos’ energy bills.

“Mobile operators increasingly need to reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of their base stations without sacrificing network coverage or the quality of the user experience,” said Ed Gubbins, Principal Analyst at Global Data, in a comment accompanying the Ericsson announcement.

“Ericsson’s smart site solutions for hybrid energy sources are designed to help operators control costs and increase profitability – especially in rural or remote areas or private networks, where traffic volumes are lower and power consumption needs to be especially efficient,” Gubbins said. “Using a variety of tools to increase energy efficiency and sustainability – including solar power, lithium-ion batteries, and advanced software features – can be helpful for improving operator profitability.”

Ultimately, the need to reduce energy costs as prices rise is as much of a driver for telcos to adopt more sustainable kit as the green agenda is; while one is obviously good PR, the other is directly balance sheet affecting.

Earlier this week Vodafone signed a Power Purchase Agreement with Iberdrola for solar energy in Spain, Portugal and Germany, as part of a broader ongoing commitment to buy all its electricity from renewable sources.

The telco’s comments on the deal focused mainly on the sustainability angle, but its worth noting that when it presented its full-year numbers Vodafone cited higher energy costs as a key reason behind its earnings decline. Vodafone’s total electricity bill was €1.2 billion for the last financial year, up from €800 million the previous year, while its energy usage crept up to 6,274 GWh from 6,125 GWh.

Any cost-saving would surely be more than welcome, particularly as we move further into the 5G era, and the associated increase in mobile sites and traffic volumes.

Vodafone is, of course, a European operator and Ericsson’s new proof-of-concept 5G site is in the US, but the issue is the same the world over. Cutting operating costs and ramping up sustainability are top of mind for all telcos.

There’s another angle to the Ericsson announcement too.

“This proof-of-concept, which is a more sustainable alternative to traditional off-grid sites which are typically powered by fossil fuel-based generators, is designed to show operators that, by intelligently orchestrating multiple energy sources and storage technologies in unison, they can reduce opex related to energy costs and help reach Net Zero goals while enabling future revenue streams from utility companies,” Ericsson said.

That last clause suggests telcos using this type of mobile site could sell excess power generated back to the grid, or a similar model, and thereby make some additional money.

Indeed, in phase two of the project Ericsson says it will explore additional green energy sources as alternatives to diesel, such as hydrogen-based generators, and will look at interoperability with power grid vendors and the possibility of selling back energy.

All in all, Ericsson is ticking a lot of boxes with this concept 5G site. The biggest question now is whether telcos will adopt this type of model and at what scale.

 

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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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