Renewable energy solution to 5G coverage energy consumption, By Prof Umar Dambatta
Exactly one year ago at the Nigerian Communications Commission’s Head Office in Maitama, I unveiled the Commission’s year-round plan for implementing initiatives for realizing the theme of 2022 World Consumer Right Day, which was “Fair Digital Finance”.
In the period between March 15, 2022, and today, NCC carried out its mandate in a manner that further strengthened consumer protection while safeguarding the interest of telecom consumers. In that period, in addition to continuing to implement the policy that ensured improved access to broadband connectivity, the Commission, through Nigerian Communications Commission’s Computer Security Incident Response Team (NCC-CSIRT) constantly alerted consumers to cyber threats that could have led to the compromise of their financial profile through the execution of malicious codes by threat actors.
By the time cashless banking fully took off in late 2023, the connectivity platforms on which electronic transactions ride have become robust to the extent of being able to absorb the surge in demand for cashless transactions.
Arising from the successes in implementing initiatives to realize last year’s theme, the Commission is poised to realize the theme for this year, which is “Empowering Consumers through Clean Energy Transition”. The theme is geared towards delivering a smooth transition for consumers experiencing a high cost of living as the globe responds to the ongoing energy crisis caused by supply and climate issues. This theme is very relevant given Nigeria’s recent licensing of the 5G spectrum networks, which consume twice as much energy as 4Gs, although they are more energy-efficient per gigabyte.
Increased Demand for Energy Consumption
With the recent licensing of the Fifth Generation (5G) spectrum, Nigeria will witness an increased deployment of telecom infrastructure to satisfy the wireless service coverage requirement for 5G services. This anticipated growth in the number of 5G coverage will trigger high demand for data services which will result in increased energy consumption for the network infrastructure especially the Base Transceiver Stations (BTS), Internet of Things (IoT), 5G Customer Premise Equipment (CPEs) and mobile devices for example. This requires the industry to look for green and sustainable power solutions required for the connectivity of IoT devices and network optimisation.
All over the globe, telecom companies are among the biggest energy users, as a result of the stiff industry competition which causes them to try to satisfy their consumers by providing higher-speed networks. With the rising utility costs, it is critical for companies to reconsider the sustainability of their operations by lowering the operational impact on the environment. This is more so because it has been found that implementing energy efficiency measures could potentially reduce the operating costs of telcos by up to 20%.
Some of these energy-efficiency measures include the redesign of the Radio Access Networks (RAN) of Base Stations which were initially built to maximise connectivity, not energy efficiency. More than 75% of the time, the radio base station resources remain unused because of the hardware components activated at all times to transmit system information and synchronisation and reference signals. Therefore, to avoid waste heat, some of 5G’s newest RAN is equipped with an energy-saving measure allowing for the automatic switching of components. Some other energy efficiency measures can also include the use of renewable energy sources (hydrogen, wind, solar etc.) to supply the energy needed.
Renewable Energy Option
The Commission, as a responsive world-class organization, has been proactive in responding to the realities and challenges posed by the impact of using fossil fuel as a power source in the telecommunications industry. In this regard, the situation in Nigeria is peculiar. Owing to the overall energy challenges of the nation, the fifty-four (54) thousand BTS scattered across the country depend on diesel generators with the attendant noise and environmental pollution. Some of these BTS operate on diesel generators for 24 hours across seven days of the week in some locations. Therefore, transitioning to a renewable energy source like solar power will significantly reduce the menace of pollution from individually-powered generators. This will be zero carbon emission from the BTS just as noise pollution would be a thing of the past.
MNOs and the need for energy-efficient networks
Consequently, to minimize the environmental impacts of climate change caused by carbon emissions, telecom network providers need to come up with a modern and more energy-efficient network. This includes the use of Solar-powered Cells, wireless electricity or a hybrid system to replace higher energy-consuming equipment that will lead to a reduction in capital expenditure (CAPEX) and operational expenditure (OPEX) and by implication, a reduction in service costs to consumers.
Transitioning to renewable energy is predicted to result in a lower cost of operation as operators will be able to save on the cost of diesel, which accounts for a large chunk of the costs incurred by these licensees. The competition that the Commission consistently promotes among industry players has a natural consequence of the savings on the cost of diesel passed on to consumers, which would potentially result in lower prices for services.
Therefore, I want to use this opportunity to call on MNOs and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to come up with innovations in sustainable energy in line with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Recommendation ITU-T L.1380 on smart energy solutions for telecom sites’ performance, safety, energy efficiency and environmental impact. This is vital to address the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation.
In this regard and for the industry stakeholders, especially consumers, to benefit from the advantages of renewable energy, the Commission is working on a policy to encourage the adoption of renewable energy sources by operators. When operational, the Policy will ensure that using clean energy sources for power has the potential to resolve the three key needs of the telecom industry, namely: reduction in diesel usage; expansion of telecom infrastructure to off-grid areas; and reduction in carbon emissions.
Collocation and Infrastructure Sharing Framework
The Policy on renewable energy in the telecom sector is an additional layer of other policies that contribute to protecting the environment. In recent years, the Commission introduced a regulatory framework on infrastructure sharing and collocation among the licensees which has encouraged operators to fully maximize their already-deployment infrastructure.
By sharing infrastructure, some operators do not need to entirely build a telecoms site in an area where another operator had deployed one. With the challenge of inadequate public electricity supply in Nigeria, telecom companies rely on diesel-powered generators to keep their telecom sites live round-the-clock. A regulatory framework such as infrastructure sharing, and collocation is helping in this regard and the Commission has recorded appreciable adoption of this regulation.
Factoring in energy efficiency in Type Approval
Another regulatory initiative in this regard is NCC’s Type Approval Regulations. For the sake of educating our media stakeholders, Type Approval is an official authorisation by the Commission prior to the use or supply of an Equipment Type in Nigeria. Our Type Approval of devices factors in energy efficiency, among others, which ensures a reduction of power consumption. It also ensures that Radio Frequency devices used in Nigeria operate effectively, without causing harmful interference and otherwise comply with the Commission’s technical requirement prior to importation or marketing.
ICT competitions focusing on renewable energy
The annual tech innovation competitions we organize for young innovators in Nigeria also make considerations for inventions that address the challenges of renewable energy. Some of the entries submitted in this regard are in the process of being commercialized as the innovators are seeking investors to make their discoveries available to the public. The Commission will continue to support research and innovations that contribute to transitioning to renewable energy sources.
Regulations on e-Waste
Also connected to NCC’s regulatory efforts in dealing with issues of sanitizing our environment is its efforts in 2019 to commence activities that will result in the formulation of a Regulation on E-Waste in Nigeria. Today, the global concern for the regulation of e-waste is two-pronged. First, is the acute awareness of the hazardous properties and the potential risk to human health, as well as their capacity to degrade the environment. Secondly, is the business case and vast Potential for wealth creation in recycling e-waste into more benign and productive uses.
In line with its regulatory mandate and to keep pace with efforts at managing e-waste-related issues, in a manner that reduces cases of indiscriminate burning of electronic devices with the potential for increased carbon emission in the environment, the Commission has been working, with other relevant agencies, to develop a Regulations on E-waste. The Regulations will represent a holistic intervention aimed at providing clarity and delimiting the responsibilities of various stakeholders in the e-waste value chain within the Telecommunications industry. While the proposed Regulations are industry-specific, they, nonetheless, key into other initiatives at national and international levels.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I wish to state that in the course of the year, the Commission’s Consumer Affairs Bureau (CAB) will sensitize telecom consumers about these interventions aimed at making the environment better for all of humanity. The CAB will carry this out as part of its Consumer Education mandate, with a significant part of this effort dedicated to providing information that equips the consumer to thrive in a world that has embraced digital finance.
Through its outreach programmes, which have continued to re-tool to reflect existing realities and trends, the CAB will use its consumer-centric initiatives such as the Telecom Consumer Parliament (TCP), Telecom Consumer Town Hall on Radio (TCTHR), Telecom Consumer Conversations (TCC) as well as social media platforms and Consumer Portal to sensitize consumers on how renewable energy benefits them and their role in achieving industry transition to it in the interest of the environment.
The CAB will develop and produce various consumer education materials such as Flexi and Roll-up Banners, and Handbills, and update its Consumer Handbook to include the message about renewable energy.
Ladies and gentlemen, as part of activities marking 2023 World Consumer Rights Day, the Commission is today launching its Telecom Consumer Assistance, Resolution and Enquiries (TELCARE) Desk, in the Arrival Lounge of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport Abuja. The TELCARE Desk in Abuja will be a pilot as we plan to set up the desk at strategic locations across the country to provide information to telecom consumers.
The TELCARE Desk serves as an additional platform to receive and facilitate the resolution of consumer complaints; provide a means through which consumers and citizens can make inquiries on consumer issues; provide a platform for advocacy on any thematic consumer issue or concerns; to further enhance awareness of the Commission’s activities.
Distinguished members of the NCC Board of Commissioners, Directors, and Staff of the Commission, respected stakeholders in the telecommunications industry, as the global community celebrates World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) 2023, the Commission is affirming that the theme of this year will form part of the consideration of the Commission’s regulatory mandate. We are committed to responsibly using the world’s resources, including protecting the environment by supporting the industry to transition to renewable energy.
Being remarks by Professor Umar Garba Danbatta (FNSE, FRAES, FAEng, FNIEEE)
Executive Vice Chairman/Chief Executive Officer
Nigerian Communications Commission at the 2023 World Consumer Rights Day in Abuja on March 15, 2023