How Smarter Industries Can Help Decarbonize Our Planet
Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying. If we are serious about reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, we need to accelerate innovations and low-carbon technologies across many sectors. In this context, 5G and other digital cellular technologies play a vital role.
There is no question that we humans are the main drivers of climate change. Due to the way we live, the way we consume and run our industries, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has been rising extensively since the Industrial Revolution and has now reached dangerous levels. According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) sixth assessment report, climate change is widespread, rapid, and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible. The UN Secretary-General António Guterres says the report is nothing less than a "code red for humanity" and that the climate crises poses an enormous financial risk to investment managers, asset owners and businesses. "These risks should be measured, disclosed and mitigated. I am asking corporate leaders to support a minimum international carbon price and align their portfolios with the Paris Agreement. The public and private sector must work together to ensure a just and rapid transformation to a net-zero global economy."
“The public and private sector must work together to ensure a just and rapid transformation to a net-zero global economy." - António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
Our ability to innovate a key factor
On the other hand, we humans, and our ability to innovate and find solutions to seemingly invincible problems, are key to decarbonizing our planet and limiting the amount of global warming. In the technology sector, Ericsson is leading the way by describing how innovative network performance can reduce energy use. For example, in our Ericsson Radio System, we are set to achieve a 35 percent energy saving by 2022 compared to the legacy portfolio in 2016. We are also actively decreasing the company's own carbon footprint. In 2020, we had reduced our emissions by almost 60 percent compared to 2016, and by over 70 percent in comparison to 2012. This shows that halving the emissions in less than 10 years is completely possible.
Nowadays, a winning business is increasingly defined by its capabilities to minimize its carbon footprint. Here, technology innovation plays an important role – adopting a smarter, more connected business model often brings energy efficiency as a side effect. Hot off the press is an MIT Technology Review Insights whitepaper "Decarbonizing industries with connectivity and 5G", zooming in on the energy, manufacturing, and transport sectors - all three big greenhouse gas-emitting industries, but where cellular infrastructure is paramount in driving down emissions.
Ramp up decarbonizing with new technologies and 5G
If the energy, manufacturing, and transport sectors succeed in halving their emissions by 2030, it would have a substantial impact on meeting the goals of the Paris agreement: to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To reach this goal, the world must undergo a tremendous transformation in energy production, where 70 to 85 percent of all electricity generated must come from renewable sources.
Today, only around 25 percent of global electricity comes from renewables, according to the online scientific publication Our World in Data. But we seem to be on the right track! A report from International Energy Agency, IEA, states that renewable sources of electricity such as wind and solar grew at their fastest rate in two decades in 2020, and are set to expand at a much faster pace in coming years than prior to the pandemic. They estimate that wind and solar photovoltaic systems, the rooftop solar you can see on homes and businesses, will contribute two-thirds of renewables growth. In China alone, this would account for almost half of the global increase in renewable electricity in 2021, followed by the United States, the European Union and India.
But dependence on solar and wind sources also creates challenges for electricity producers. One is the network disturbances, as renewable power generation is erratic due to weather conditions. Electricity is also difficult to store, making it important for power companies to be able to balance generation with consumption. A third challenge mentioned in the MIT technology review whitepaper is the fact that renewable energy generation sources are small and widely dispersed.
Here is where cellular connectivity and 5G can make a difference. It is a key enabler in the realization of the smart energy grid due to its improved speed, ultra-low latency (which measures how long a signal takes to go from its source to its receiver and back), and its ability to connect more devices at once. Thanks to 5G, the energy sector will be able to collect data in near real-time, helping them distribute energy in a much more effective, efficient, fast, and secure way. Coupled with advanced storage technology and Artificial Intelligence, AI, in the energy sector, this will allow energy suppliers to feed huge databases from smart sensors. As a result, they will know exactly when to distribute or redistribute power and in what exact amount, leading to a secure and stable power supply and energy savings for us consumers.
Smarter energy options
So, what is a smart grid? The term "smart grid" describes an electrical grid that's integrated with a computerized, two-way communication network. Older electrical grids send electrical power in one direction, from a power plant to homes and offices. A smart grid provides real-time feedback on system-wide operations, power interruptions and electrical use - back to the electrical plant and power grid operators. In this context, smart meter technology is a vital component, as smart meters have the potential to generate more energy-conscious consumers and businesses by encouraging people to better manage and reduce their energy consumption.
Smart meters give us a much more accurate view of exactly when energy is used and where. This means that energy retailers will know in detail and in real-time how much energy to buy and sell, which helps the grid incorporate a higher percentage of renewable electricity.
Smart meters also enable the so-called "time of use tariffs", which encourage customers to use energy at off-peak times or at times of maximum renewable generation. This might mean that smart meters can turn off household freezers for a short amount of time to reduce the peak or turn electric cars on to charge on a windy night. It might mean that batteries charge up on sunny days and release their power on still evenings.
Using the intelligence and real-time data provided by a truly smart energy system, we can better match supply with demand and integrate more renewable energy sources such as wind and solar into the system. These forms of generating energy create less air pollution and emit significantly less CO2 into the atmosphere.
It all begins with increasing efficiency and optimization
The industrial sector is responsible for over 30 percent of the global total carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Exponential Roadmap report. If large industrial companies make significant changes, industry-related emissions could be cut by 50 percent by 2030.
The fact is that material reuse and recycling could make the single biggest impact on reducing carbon emissions in the manufacturing sector, potentially accounting for nearly half of emissions reductions by 2030.
According to the MIT whitepaper, enterprises and industries must therefore redouble their decarbonizing efforts with speed and precision, and it all begins with increasing efficiency and optimization. By combining fiber-fast speeds, non-stop reliability, ultra-low-latency, and superior security – 5G has already set off a wave of innovation across industries. They are critical for businesses to advance their digital transformation and improve efficiencies such as reduced energy consumption and increased recycling efforts. The fact is that material reuse and recycling could make the single biggest impact on reducing carbon emissions in the manufacturing sector, potentially accounting for nearly half of emissions reductions by 2030.
So exactly how should manufacturers and industries go about making this change? Let me illustrate how 5G connectivity can drive down costs while lowering energy usage and mitigating climate change by highlighting Ericsson's 5G smart factory in Texas. Twice this year, this plant of ours was recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the world's lighthouse factories, meaning: manufacturing sites that serve as role models to the rest of the world in creating profitable economic growth without increasing its environmental footprint.
Our factory in Texas, which produces 5G and advanced antenna system radios and primarily serves Ericsson 5G customers in North America, is equipped with fast and secure cellular connectivity to improve efficiency and optimize our production process. We use our Ericsson's Private Network to power autonomous mobile robots for quicker routing to move materials, for a real-time digital twin to identify where performance could be improved as well as Augmented Reality, AR, for our engineers to improve operations remotely. The factory, built with 98 percent of construction materials recycled or reused, is designed to reduce energy consumption by 24 percent, indoor water usage by 75 percent, and the factory runs on 100 percent renewable electricity. Due to the closeness to our US customers, the factory also helps us reduce emissions from product transportation – which is key to delivering on Ericsson's global goal to cut airborne supply from 30 to max 10 percent. Just imagine the impact on climate change if we can implement these solutions across the plus 10 million manufacturing sites globally!
Collaboration a must
The MIT whitepaper also emphasized the transport sector, representing around 16 percent of global total emissions. Cars are responsible for 90 percent of air pollution in cities and contain 1.4 tons of material on average, according to EIT Climate-KIC. At the end of a vehicle's life, little of this material is recovered and re-used. However, technological advancements and environmental concerns are now driving a rapid transformation in this sector.
For the world to experience less than 1.5°C of global warming, the transport sector needs to reduce its absolute carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. In the same period, mobility demand is expected to increase by 70 percent globally. For the industry to decarbonize and prepare for this increased mobility demand, mass transit, usership instead of ownership, electrification and circularity will be crucial, as two-thirds of emissions come from shorter trips in cities. And with circularity, I mean using cars more efficiently, shifting to fleets and coordinating ecosystems such as logistics firms, public transport operators and individual drivers more effectively. At the core of this change is cellular connectivity and the capabilities of 5G.
The challenge in the transport sector is that most transportation systems are still very siloed.
To spur decarbonization and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, the thing called operational intelligence - the gathering of various data feeds representing ongoing business operations and related external factors - must be shared across ecosystems. The good news is that this is a fact that industry players are already acutely aware of.
Early last year, the Circular Cars Initiative, CCI, was launched during World Economic Forum in Davos. It is a private/public sector collaboration that engages stakeholders along the automotive value chain, including material suppliers, fleet operators, re-manufacturers, recycles, data platforms and regulators. Their focus is on leveraging new technologies and business models to align the automotive industry with a scenario where all transportation is connected, autonomous, shared, and fossil-free.
The joint partners have three focus areas: design for longevity through sharing and pooling concepts, improved materials management, and advanced re-manufacturing, which allows products to be reused rather than go to waste and supports a circular economy. Highly utilized, circular cars are estimated to reduce carbon emissions by up to 75 percent and resource consumption by up to 80 percent per passenger kilometer by 2030, according to a calculation by CCI.
"No time for delay, no room for excuses"
According to MIT, 5G and cellular technology could soon contribute to an exponential acceleration of global efforts to reduce carbon emissions by enabling increasingly interconnected supply chains and networks, improving data sharing, optimizing systems, and spurring operational efficiency.
For the world to halt global warming and stimulate a shift to a sustainable, circular economy, stakeholders across industries and business verticals need to adopt an approach founded on transparency and collaboration. Cooperation is needed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as called for by Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. That is why Ericsson is engaged in events such as the UN Climate Conference – an event that has become a meeting place for companies demanding more action. Because as UN Secretary-General António Guterres so rightly says: "There is no time for delay and no room for excuses. If we combine efforts now, we can still avert climate catastrophe."
Now is the time to imagine how our decisions today can impact our children, grandchildren, and future generations. Let's take a moment to reflect upon what kind of future we want to leave behind for them, and what actions we will commit to make it happen.
Read the MIT Technology Review Insights whitepaper "Decarbonizing industries with connectivity and 5G.”