Telecommunications Companies Upgrade Their Approaches to Energy

November 12, 2015 By Carl Weinschenk

shutterstock_133119524Though they use it in different ways, wireless, telephone and cable providers consume a tremendous amount of energy. It’s acknowledged across the board that demand will continue to accelerate, and they are taking steps to become more efficient.

Cable industry multiple systems operators (MSOs) have been vocal and proactive in their efforts to cut energy use. The industry has a unique set of challenges. It has evolved in an incremental fashion, starting, of course, as a pure video distribution business. It eventually moved into high speed data and telephony services. The equipment used to run the bewildering array of encoders, decoders, amplifiers, cable modem termination systems (CMTS), telephone equipment and so forth evolved in different silos. Each had their own power infrastructure.

That, clearly, is a highly inefficient approach. During the past few years the industry has been working on a technology called the converged cable access platform (CCAP). As the name implies, CCAP integrates voice, video and data functionality into a single unit. This serves two purposes: It saves space in hubs and headends (a big issues for cable operators) and reduces power requirements. The devices are entering the field testing phase.

That isn’t the only way in which operators are addressing energy. The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) supports an ongoing effort called Energy 2020. Dean Stoneback, the Senior Director of Engineering for the SCTE told Energy Manager Today that it is a vital topic for the industry.

“Energy management is important to cable for several reasons:  First, the projection that energy costs could quadruple from $1 billion last year to $4 billion per year by the end of the decade – in North America alone. Second, the need to lessen reliance on the energy grid so that grid interruptions do not impact cable service availability. And third, the need to ensure that lack of energy availability in a given location never is an obstacle to cable service delivery.”

Stoneback sites air flow, heat release and general equipment efficiency as areas in which the cable industry is pursuing energy savings. He also points to the “Adaptive Power Systems Interface Specification,” which he writes enables operators to take a “transaction-based approach to measuring and controlling energy consumption associated with service delivery.”

The savings can be steep, Stoneback writes: “The cable industry believes that it can achieve cost avoidance of $1 billion per year by the end of the decade while maintaining or even improving feature parity. The intent is to do this by driving down grid dependency by 10%, cutting power consumption by 20% on a per unit basis, reducing energy costs by 25% on a unit basis and optimizing technical facilities and datacenter footprints by 20%.”

The Wireless Story

Simply increasing the capacity of macro base stations is one way that cellular companies are dealing with the increased demand for their services. This, of course, has implications on energy usage. Another is by supplementing those towers with an entirely new approach. Small cell technology – a mix of picocells and femtocells and others – enables wireless operators to improve coverage, reuse spectrum and in some cases offload traffic to the wired Internet. These devices may be powered by the service provider or the homeowner.

Scrambling leads to innovation. Last week, Royal Philips and Ericsson said that Los Angeles will be the first city to deploy SmartPoles, devices that combine Philips LED street lighting with Ericsson’s LTE wireless technology.

One hundred SmartPoles initially will be deployed. The twin goals are to replace legacy lighting with LEDs and to provide better cellular and wireless coverage. None of the information in the media or from Ericsson or Philips directly addressed whether the same energy source will drive the LTE and LED functions. But it is clear that now – or in future iterations – SmartPoles will use a single power source and cut the cumulative draw of the two functions.

Energy also will be saved as the mandate of SmartPoles expands. Ericsson points to control of self-driving cars, smart traffic, weather and air quality sensing, next-generation alarms, city monitoring and other futuristic uses. The bottom line is that supporting all of these functions in a modular approach atop shared energy resources will lead to significant overall savings.

Spending on energy matters is rising. Navigant Research looked at the way in which energy use by telecommunications companies is changing. Distributed generation provides less costly power that can serve as a backup and drive telecommunications systems when grid power is unavailable. Storage capacity has to grow in lockstep with on-site generation capabilities. Navigant says that global spending by telecommunications companies on distributed generation and energy storage will grow from $2.4 billion this year to $3.4 billion in 2024.

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