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Reducing emissions isn’t just about climate but about maintaining global competitiveness

Reducing emissions isn’t just about climate but about maintaining global competitiveness

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Matt Vesperman, Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand, Ciena, discusses how Australia’s tech and telco sectors need to take tangible steps to decarbonise ahead of federal government policy to remain globally competitive.

Australia has taken a technology-led approach when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. This includes adoption of solar as a renewable energy source and research into clean hydrogen technology for power generation and steel making.

Matt Vesperman, Managing Director for Australia and New Zealand, Ciena

But while Australia is on track to meet its commitments to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030, the bar has been significantly lifted and the pressure is on to follow other leading economies on the path toward a more sustainable future.

Nations around the world have begun their move toward becoming greener, with aggressive policies and incentives to drive their nations toward their 2050 targets. Furthermore, there are talks abroad of carbon border taxes on imported products and services; if nations do not meet certain emissions requirements, they could be subject to tariffs at the border, making them financially uncompetitive.

This poses a significant challenge to Australia. While our residential adoption of solar penetration is among the best in the world, this isn’t the long-term answer to our base load needs. We have a poor adoption of new cleaner technologies, such as electric vehicles, which accounted for just 0.4% of new car sales this year and which also have their own issues to address.

While they emit zero tailpipe emissions, they are recharged by a (mostly) coal-powered electrical grid. And while hydrogen power band fuel cells could potentially offer a long-term solution, particularly for long-haul freight transport, success is certainly not guaranteed.

So, what can we do? Yes, we need to keep investing in renewable energy, including the significant ramping of solar applications in a nation that proudly calls itself the ‘sunburnt country.’ We also need to selectively deploy wind turbines and other emerging technologies – such as green ammonia and renewable ethanol where it makes sense – noting that these technologies have their uses, but none alone are a ‘silver bullet.’

But clearly in the short term, the best thing we can do is to significantly and immediately reduce our power consumption. While traditionally the technology sector has been a large emitter, the pandemic turned everything up a notch.

According to the Australian Energy Council, in 2018 ‘data centers are anticipated to grow to consume a fifth of all the world’s energy by 2025’ and had ‘the fastest growing CO2 within the ICT sector due to technological advances such as cloud computing and the rapid growth of the Internet.’

Fast forward to today. We’re now living in a world in which cloud computing and online communications have never been more important, with people working from home and streaming TV more than ever before. Australians set a record for the highest data ever downloaded in the history of the National Broadband Network (nbn) in August last year, with download rates almost doubling to 16.2 terabits per second on the pre-pandemic traffic baseline.

It’s imperative that we drive toward more energy-efficient networking technologies. Telcos, enterprises and governments need the components that make up their networks to be as green as possible, setting new standards for sustainable outcomes.

The tech and telco industries are the foundation for every critical sector in Australia – from agriculture to manufacturing to finance and more. Essentially, networking underpins every part of our lives, so the stakes are high if we don’t work together toward environmental efficiencies.

Aside from disappointing a public who want their suppliers to increasingly decarbonise, carbon border taxes have the tech and telco sectors and the industries they serve facing competitive financial pressures on a global scale. We can’t afford to fall behind here; we need to change with the world, not local policy.

For the telco sector, this change can be as simple as finding efficiencies in our networks – doing more with less.

An example is coherent technology innovation. Without getting too technical, coherent optical transmission makes possible the transport of considerably more information through a fiber-optic cable.

This is critical, as the proliferation of data is growing at an unprecedented rate. Dell’Oro Group reports that bandwidth capacity in the network grew an incredible 70x over the last 10 years. During this time, the industry achieved an 80x increase in data throughput over a single wavelength in the same or smaller footprint while slashing power-per-bit consumption by 90% for optical transmission.

Additionally, coherent technology has allowed network providers to repurpose existing fiber plant to carry more capacity and delay the need to lay out new fiber. These advancements have led to the significant reduction in footprint and power required, resulting in a tangible impact on global emissions.

And looking ahead, 400ZR plugs are set to be installed by large data center providers within the next year to allow them to interconnect across great distances. As we install the plugs, we have a chance to make them energy efficient. 400ZR plugs consume around 17 watts each, but what if we could shave off 2 watts from each plug?

This is feasible, today. While 2 watts might not seem like much, for a network comprised of 20 data centers, each hosting 20,000 15-watt 400ZR plugs, the power savings would be about >1MW per year. This equates to around 11,485 barrels of oil consumption, 597 homes’ worth of energy use, or 603,442,084 smartphones charged.

We are making great progress as an industry with the introduction of new network technologies which, when considered together, are driving huge reductions in power consumption per transported bit of data; however, there are still further actions we can take to maintain competitiveness, while also enabling incremental savings in our energy consumption.

It’s worth all providers taking a microscope to their networks now to find powered hardware that is ripe for efficiency gains, because investing our resources to drive innovation for new efficiencies and greener networks must be a priority.

The only thing in our power is, well, power. How well we use it will be critical to both the telecom sector’s – and Australia’s-sustainability and success within the global economy.

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