What Role Can Cloud & 5G Play in Sustainability?

Faith Taylor, Kyndryl and Blessing Makumbe, Ericsson UK & Ireland explore the role of 5G and cloud technology in sustainability

The first commercial cloud was launched by Amazon in 2006, with widespread adoption really finding its feet – including the launch of Microsoft Azure – in the early 2010s. 5G is a slightly newer technology, with deployments starting in 2018. 

Both technologies are widely used today – what role do they play in sustainability?

We spoke to Faith Taylor SVP Sustainability, ESG & Impact Officer at Kyndryl and Blessing Makumbe, VP and Head of Cloud Software & Services at Ericsson UK & Ireland about how cloud and 5G can impact sustainability – both positively and negatively.

“Digital technology stands as one of the most powerful and scalable tools the world has to tackle climate change,” Blessing says. “Research shows that it has the potential to reduce global emissions by up to 20% by 2030, as new technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing energy efficiency and automation, leading to reduced emissions.”

How can cloud and 5G advance sustainability goals?

Success in sustainability goals does not just involve being more sustainable – there is a considerable reporting side to it, and accurate reporting involves data collection and analysis. Migrating to cloud networks to meet demanding data and application needs not only simplifies the user-end, it also boosts efficiency.

“Organisations migrating from on-premises network hardware to cloud-based services can decrease related carbon emissions between 78% and 96%,” explains Faith.

Cloud-computing offers significant advantages in performance, scalability, reliability and flexibility while reducing energy usage.

“We now have software that is ‘cloud native’, meaning it has been designed to benefit from unique cloud characteristics that result in smaller “footprint” of hardware resources, as well as innovative software solutions for increased energy performance – like micro-sleeps when not processing,” says Blessing.

What about 5G?

“For large companies looking for connectivity at large sites such as manufacturing facilities or networks of hospitals, private 5G networks at the ‘edge’ offer untapped potential as these networks provide speed, innovation, enhanced securityand business cost savings. They reduce the need for hardware equipment – ultimately advancing an organisation’s sustainability footprint,” says Faith.

“Edge computing, which processes data closer to where it’s generated, also enables companies to gain real-time insights into their operations. Kyndryl, for example, has developed edge capabilities to optimise water treatment operations with predictive maintenance, enhance aeration process and to reduce energy consumption.”

5G and cloud both present significant opportunities for deploying new technologies, as well as being more efficient themselves.

“With its higher speeds and lower latency, 5G supports a range of sustainability-focused use cases which will help meet net zero targets,” Blessing explains. 

“For example, smart grids powered by 5G optimise energy distribution, while connected sensors in agriculture facilitate precise resource management. In addition to the impact that 5G and associated technology can have, at Ericsson we are also taking decisive steps and actions to make our networks more sustainable by improving energy efficiency, integrating renewables and innovating for faster nationwide 5G deployment.

“Between 2021-2025, we have set a goal to reduce the energy consumption of a typical new radio base station site by 40%. If mobile operators achieve forecasted renewable energy consumption, a 70% reduction can be achieved per site.”

What challenges does implementing new technology present for sustainability?

As with other new technologies, including AI, the key challenges come down to energy. The International Energy Agency estimates global electricity demand from data centres, AI and crypto could double from 2024 to 2026. How can we increase technology while reducing energy use and the impact of development and infrastructure? 

“As organisations increase their use of AI and other new technologies and require greater computing power – through data centres and cloud environments – they should be thoughtful in the choice of resources used, such as using more modern systems, low-powered chipsets and water cooling in data centres or tapping cloud environments powered by renewable energy sources,” Faith warns.

As energy demand increases,the development of energy-efficient infrastructure becomes imperative too. 

“We know that organisations must adapt to climate change while also managing the rapid pace of technological advancements,” says Faith. 

“For organisations to take full advantage of these new technologies, they must be strategic in decoupling their carbon emissions from growth objectives. This means IT, finance and sustainability leaders have the opportunity to collectively work together to identify the technologies that will help them advance priority initiatives, and pragmatically work on a plan to integrate new solutions, keeping the company’s overall environmental targets and commitments in mind.”

Looking specifically at the 5G impact, Blessing says: “We believe it is possible to scale up 5G while simultaneously reducing total network energy consumption. Our 5G radio solutions are becoming increasingly lightweight and are now 10 times more energy efficient per gigabyte. 

“An example of this can be seen when we collaborated with Vodafone, who deployed our antenna-integrated radio solution (AIR 3227). The successful pilot saw a 43% reduction in 5G energy consumption during a London trial. 

“Looking ahead, integrating AI, machine learning, and automation solutions into networks will mean they can meet growing demand whilst remaining highly energy efficient.”

Faith concludes: “While there are clear sustainability challenges, we still believe that new technologies such as AI will help companies automate sustainability measurement today while helping them move toward predictive analytics that assess scope 3 risks, forecast energy consumption and anticipate potential risks such as natural disasters in the future.”

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