Insight: Lithium Batteries: A Powerful Tool in the Fight Against Climate Change

Lithium Batteries: A Powerful Tool in the Fight Against Climate Change

Lithium Batteries: A Powerful Tool in the Fight Against Climate Change

While 5G is being deployed on a global scale, the world is coming together to fight climate change. To be part of the solution to the climate crisis and avoid rising carbon prices, mobile network operators (MNOs) need to switch from traditional backup solutions such as lead-acid or diesel to lithium. By connecting energy storage assets to the grid, MNOs can facilitate the ongoing transition to the decentralized and decarbonized energy system of the future.

In the years ahead, the telecom industry will not be exempt from the pressure from consumers, investors, and policy makers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The growth of power consumption by 5G networks could cause a similar growth in greenhouse gas emissions if not managed properly.

Most of an MNO’s carbon dioxide emissions are generated by the radio access network, making it a prime target for environmentally friendly improvements. About 80 percent of a mobile network’s energy is consumed by base station sites.1 As energy consumption is expected to increase, energy efficiency and the decarbonization of energy supply will be paramount to reach the industry-wide climate action roadmap to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.2 Furthermore, a failure to decarbonize the energy supply is likely to be a cost driver as the price of carbon is expected to continue to rise in the near future.

From Lead to Lithium
By switching from lead-acid power backup to lithium, MNOs can reduce their carbon footprint substantially. Lithium-ion energy storage offer a carbon dioxide reduction of more than 20 percent per kWh capacity compared to the traditional lead-acid technology.3 From a sustainability perspective, the most important difference between lead-acid and lithium is their energy density (Wh/L); a lead-acid battery needs to be replaced every fifth year, whereas a lithium battery can last up to 20 years to meet the same energy demand.

Meanwhile, great progress is being made to recycle lithium batteries. Recycled batteries have the potential to decrease emissions even further and is for example a cornerstone of the EU Commission’s proposed regulation on battery sustainability.4 With the best recycling technologies available, up to 95 percent of the batteries can be effectively recycled, and up to 90 percent of the metals nickel, manganese, and cobalt can be recovered for reuse. Continuous progress is also being made in the recovery rate of lithium, and now the vast majority of the metal can be reused.

Reduce Off-Grid Diesel Dependency
In many low and middle-income countries, access to mobile connectivity has been advanced by the expansion of mobile towers into areas either not connected to a national grid or connected but receiving unreliable electrical power. In these locations, “off-grid” and “bad-grid” towers tend to rely on on-site diesel generators, inflicting a measurable cost on the environment and the balance sheets of MNOs. Nearly half of all towers in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 16 percent of towers in South and Southeast Asia, are still categorized as either off-grid or bad-grid, and 88 percent of these continue to run on diesel power.5

For MNOs and telecom tower companies, reduction of diesel dependency is a top priority on their sustainability agenda. In 2017, American Tower Company, one of the world’s largest tower companies with approximately 180,000 telecom tower sites, established a goal of reducing its Scope 1 fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in Africa and India by more than 6 percent. This is achieved by replacing lead-acid batteries and diesel generators with lithium-ion batteries and broader utilization of solar energy.6

Another leading telecom tower company, TAWAL, which operates in Saudi Arabia, has added lithium powered energy storage solutions to 974 of their off-grid telecom towers through a collaboration with Ericsson and Polarium. Before, the off-grid sites relied on dual diesel generators to keep the network up and running 24 hours per day. Now, diesel dependency is limited to eight hours a day and only a single diesel generator is required for recharging the batteries. This reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 33,000 metric tons a year.

Enable the Decarbonized Energy System of the Future
Lithium-ion batteries is a core technology in the transition to a sustainable future, most associated with enabling the electric vehicle revolution. However, it is also a key enabler in the transition to a renewable energy system. The challenge with renewable energy is that the two main sources of renewable energy, wind and solar, are intermittent. To truly leave fossil fuels behind, renewable energy needs to be turned into a dispatchable asset, which means that it can be turned on and off or up and down, to match energy demand at any given moment.

Lithium-ion batteries thus represents an opportunity for MNOs to monetize their power backup solutions by using peak shaving and selling excess energy back to the grid, and by reducing their carbon footprint and facilitating the transition to a decentralized and decarbonized energy system. In this way, lithium-ion batteries are a powerful tool in the fight against climate change.

Want to know more about how to rethink power backup in the 5G era? Download our full report here!

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Sources

  1. Nokia: Building zero-emission radio access networks, 2016. https://onestore.nokia.com/asset/200830?_ga=2.112273414.366311856.1619768544-1074135584.1619768544
  2. GSMA: Better future – Climate Action, 2021. https://www.gsma.com/betterfuture/climate- action
  3. Polarium Internal Data
  4. European Commission: Green Deal: Sustainable batteries for a circular and climate neutral economy, 2020. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_2312
  5. GSMA: Renewable Energy for Mobile Towers: Opportunities for low- and middle-income countries, 2020. https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Clean_Tech_Report_R_WebSingles.2.pdf
  6. American Tower: Environment, 2021. https://www.americantower.com/corporate-responsibility/environment.html

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