5G and IoT can reduce UK emissions by 78% by 2035 – report

Adopting 5G and IoT can reduce UK carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, says a new report by London consultancy WPI Economics for Vodafone.

Deploying the new digital technologies in the key areas of manufacturing, transport and agriculture alone would cut the UK's overall emissions by as much as 4% a year.

That equates to 17.4 million tonnes, or the annual emissions of the entire Northeast of England.

In towns and cities, transportation would bring most (87%) of the carbon savings from digital technology.

In the countryside, not surprisingly, 38% would come from agriculture.

Three billion pints of milk

Smart IoT sensors used in growing crops, and monitoring soil, fertilizer, feed and water, have a huge potential to reduce waste and boost efficiency.

Enough to save 4.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, says the report.

That's the same as the emissions involved in producing three billion pints of milk.

Two million cars

On the transport side, using IoT and 5G for better telematics would do things like help delivery companies to plan smarter, shorter routes, and cut idling time.

Using less fuel as a result would save the UK 9.3 million tonnes a year of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions.

That's the same as 2 million cars off the road. (Even better than the pints of milk.)

3.3 million tonnes

On the factory floor, using AI and machine learning together with smart building solutions can make production lines faster and more energy efficient.

The end result could be a 3.3 million tonnes a year cut in carbon dioxide emissions.

That's the same as the emissions in manufacturing 600,000 cars.

Telcos and the race to zero

Vodafone itself has set a goal of eliminating carbon emissions from its global operations by 2030 (2027 in the UK).

It's also aiming by 2040 to achieve net zero in its global emissions, including those from its supply chain and business travel.

As an industry, the GSM Association, representing mobile operators worldwide, has committed to help the mobile industry achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The mobile industry has been one of the first major sectors in the world to voluntarily set science-based targets for emissions reductions, said GSMA Director General Mats Granryd.

Telecom as a whole makes up about 1.4% of emissions worldwide, says research by Ericsson.

Emissions from powering networks and IT makes up about a third of this carbon footprint, says Uwe Lambrette from consultancy Oliver Wyman.

Telecoms companies also account for about 3% of global energy consumption.

Vodafone also says 100% of the grid energy it now consumes across Europe is certifiably from renewable sources, including wind, solar and hydro-electrics.

COPping on

Other telcos have also been making public commitments to cut emissions. AT&T launched a connected climate initiative this month to reduce emissions by a gigaton (a billion metric tonnes) by 2035, relative to 2018 levels. Last year, the operator committed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2035.

Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.

It all comes as the UK prepares to host COP26, the 26th conference of the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which will take place in Glasgow in November.

The outcome could determine whether the world can limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

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Pádraig Belton, contributing editor special to Light Reading

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