Connecting the Nodes: 5G Energy Challenge Explained

22nd September, 2021

With a new technology standard for broadband cellular networks coming out every decade over the last 30 years, we have now arrived at the fifth generation: 5G.

The general public will experience significantly higher speed with 5G, but what really makes it unique is its low latency and improved reliability. The new technology is taking mission-critical applications to the next level, enabling services ranging from advanced remote surgery to driverless cars and safe, autonomous public transport.

Together with technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing, 5G is shaping the future of what work will look like across industries, from healthcare to transportation. The path is yet to be determined. It’s an exciting development – and it’s happening right now.

This future of mission-critical applications requires a 5G infrastructure that can handle constant reliability. In a world where the grid is increasingly powered by intermittent energy, such as solar and wind, we become even more reliant on having an energy supply that never fails.

More Nodes Require More Energy

The main issue with 5G – from an energy point of view – is that it will consume a lot more energy. 5G as a technology is more energy efficient (per bit/data transmitted) than previous generations of mobile communications technology. However, applications that will run on 5G will require a lot more data to be transmitted in the networks. For communities, the most apparent impact is an increasingly stretched grid, risking blackouts and brownouts.

To handle the required amount of data, telecommunication networks will need to be densified. Macro sites will require more radios and a large number of small sites need to be built in urban communities. Due to issues with space in such areas, smaller and lighter products will be needed, such as pole- and wall-mounted nodes. This poses another challenge, as every small site at city center street level will require electrical meters and electrical supply. Developing strategies on how to address energy consumption and cost-effective supply is on top of tower companies’ and mobile network operators’ agendas across the globe.

Changing Landscape for Mobile Network Operators

As 5G technology promises higher speeds, and improved reliability and latency, mobile network operators are shifting towards more advanced technologies like Massive MIMO antennas and beam forming, powerful radios, and sophisticated scheduling algorithms. This will result in higher energy bills, leaving operators no choice but to look for smart ways to decrease energy costs without compromising 5G technology requirements or customer satisfaction. On top of all this, operators have very ambitious targets to reduce their carbon footprint.

Telecom is normally seen by most governments as a critical industry, which means that we cannot accept non-connectivity. That rings especially true for mission-critical applications – because we simply cannot accept network failures. But for most countries, expanding the grid infrastructure that is needed will be very costly and take many years. Meanwhile, energy storage will be the only commercially viable way to ensure grid stability.

Enabling Constant Reliability and New Revenue Streams

Energy storage is critical to provide power backup for sites to ensure capacity when it’s needed the most. It secures network availability and service continuity for everyday life, emergencies, and mission-critical applications in event of blackouts or brownouts. While enabling back up energy from renewable sources, obviating the need for led batteries and diesel generators.

Having energy storage also enables new revenue streams for telecom and tower companies, as we can harvest green energy and save it for peak times or sell it back to the grid. This is not only beneficial from a financial standpoint – it’s also needed to balance the grid and reduce the risk of blackouts and brownouts in the first place.

That’s why we at Polarium always say that energy storage is the missing link in the renewable energy system.

By: Maha Bouzeid

Maha Bouzeid is Business Development Director at Polarium. In her role, Maha is in charge of developing new business opportunities for Polarium’s customers.

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