Green Telecommunications – TRAI Consultation Paper Released

The Telecom Regulaory Authority of India (TRAI) released a “Consultation Paper On Green Telecommunications”.

Energy expense accounts for a significant share of the operational cost of telecommunications networks. This is particularly so in the rural areas where availability of power is uncertain. The use of diesel generators to ensure continuous power supply has the disadvantage of increasing the greenhouse gas emission and consequent enlargement of the carbon footprint which has a deleterious impact on the environment. While contribution of the telecommunications sector to the global carbon footprint is low compared to other sectors like transportation and construction, it nevertheless contributes a noteworthy share and increasingly so with growing reach of the telecommunications network.

As the second largest and fastest growing market in the world, there is need for India to be conscious of the concerns in this regard. Besides, as a country heavily dependent on import of petroleum products while being abundant in renewable energy sources there is scope for innovative measures towards making telecommunications green. It is in this regard that TRAI believes that this is an opportune time to discuss the related issues and is therefore issuing this consultation paper for consideration and comments by the stakeholders. The inputs received will enable the Authority to take further action and take or recommend suitable measures.

Climate change is one of the most compelling global challenges of our time. There has been a considerable increase in the average temperature of the earth in the past century. This rise in temperature is attributed to the effects of global warming brought about by the accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. The reason for increased GHG, mainly Carbon Dioxide (CO2), is because of the increased energy consumption which results in emission of pollutants. Natural calamities like typhoons, floods and changes in the sea levels are attributed to the CO2 fuelled greenhouse effect. It is estimated that during the last 30 years the CO2 emissions have gone up by 73%. India is ranked 5th amongst the countries in the list of global GHG emission, with USA and China contributing about 4 times emission than that of India. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which was signed by over 160 countries, including India, calls on all countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gasses by 5%, from the 1990 level, by the year 2012. Many governments around the world, including India has taken steps to reduce energy consumption and emissions. India is committed to reduce carbon intensity by 20-25% between 2005 and 2020.

The information and communications technology (ICT) industry alone accounts for about 2% or 860 million tonnes of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The main contributing sectors within the ICT industry include the energy requirements of PCs and monitors (40%), data centres about 23% and fixed and mobile telecommunications contribute about 24% of the total emissions. Compared to the other sectors such as travel and transport, construction and energy production, the ICT sector is relatively energy-lean with telecommunications contributing just 0.7percent or about 230 million tones of green house gas emissions. The challenge for the telecom service providers, telecom equipment manufacturers and the government is to pursue growth in telecom networks, while ensuring that the 2 percent of global emissions does notsignificantly increase over the coming years.

Energy costs are among the largest operating expenses for telecom network operators, and energy consumption from telecom networks is an increasing contributor to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As an ever increasing number of people around the world become connected by fixed and mobile telecommunications networks, the challenges related toproviding electricity to these expanding networks are becoming greater as well. While telecom is relatively energy-lean, the telecom networks are still driven largely by fossil fuel energy and the energy costs represent a significant opex item. With the double whammy of increasing energy consumption and rising cost of fossil fuel, it is important that the focus shifts to energy efficient technologies and alternate sources of energy.

Increasing public demand for corporate social responsibility and a genuine desire to effect positive change in the environment are leading telecommunications service providers and their suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint. Going Green has also become a business necessity for telecom operators with energy costs becoming as large as 25% of total network operations costs. A typical communications company spends nearly 1% of its revenues on energy3 which for large operators may amount to hundreds of crores of rupees.

Whether out of compulsion of reducing cost or fulfilling corporate social responsibility (CSR) and projecting a humane face to the society, telecom service providers and manufacturers, all over the world, have taken steps towards greening of telecom. Efficient power management, infrastructure sharing, use of eco-friendly renewable energy sources and cutting down carbon emission over the complete duration of the product lifecycle have been under intense consideration by telecom industry all over the world.

Besides being part of the problem, ICT is also a part of the solution. It enables significant reductions in the GHG emissions and costs across a range of sectors of the economy using multimedia communication, machine to machine communication and software control of processes to deliver smart solutions like smart grid, teleconferencing, smart logistics and transportation. For each tonne of greenhouse gas the ICT industry produces through powering servers, data centers, networks, etc, it can leverage a reduction or avoidance of up to 9 tonnes across the economy.

This consultation paper has been issued by TRAI, suo-motu, to engage the industry in evolving mechanisms to assess and control carbon footprint and deliberate on the need and form of carbon credit policy for the telecom sector. Chapter I of this Consultation paper brings out the factors contributing to the carbon footprint and the need for carbon credit policy. Chapter II deals with methods to reduce carbon footprint and Chapter III gives the summary of the issues for consultation.

Read the complete paper: “Consultation Paper On Green Telecommunications”.

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