November 7, 2021

Report Explores How Mobile and Digital Technology Can Support Industry Decarbonization

According to a report conducted GSMA Intelligence, the research arm of the GSMA, a UK-based organization that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, "The use of mobile and digital technology is a key enabler of the decarbonization transition. Telecoms operators, vendors and supporting ecosystem partners play a key role in the move to digital and low-carbon economies, particularly where it involves the enterprise segment and asset-intensive sectors using technology to lower emissions." Supported Nokia, a Finnish multinational telecommunications, information technology, and consumer electronics company, Industry pathways to net zero: mobile and digital technology in support of industry decarbonization outlines "a high-level quantification of decarbonization and associated strategies for four key industries that account for 80% of global emissions – manufacturing, power and energy, transport, and buildings." The report also outlines "a set of forward-looking implications."

Addressing how smarter use of mobile and digital technology results in carbon savings, the report explains that the "implementation of specific mobile and digital technologies could result in substantial CO2 savings for each industry. In aggregate, the savings enabled by the technologies amount to just under 40% (equivalent to 11 gigatons) of the carbon emissions savings that these industries will need to achieve over the next decade, assuming an end goal of net zero by 2050." I appreciate how GSMA Intelligence puts this in perspective at an industry level:
  • The annual global CO2 savings from smart manufacturing would equate to 28 million roundtrip flights from London to Los Angeles.
  • The potential CO2 savings from using smart meters in North American residential premises would be enough to power 25 million homes (20% of households in the US) for a year.
  • The savings from the switch to electric vehicles (EVs) worldwide would equate to removing 180 million petrol-fueled cars from roads over the next 10 years.

With respect to the specific technologies of IoT, LTE and 5G, the report imparts that "Digitization and decarbonization are enabled by a range of mobile connectivity products and network services working in sync with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-learning algorithms in the cloud to drive productivity gains." GSMA Intelligence highlights ways "IoT sensors, LTE and 5G connectivity (including for private networks) are being deployed across the industries profiled in this analysis, along with a raft of other solutions."
  • In manufacturing, smart factories are underpinned by IoT sensors, robotics and AI that automate dynamic shifts to production capacity and the remote repair of machine faults. This reduces reliance on manual labor, increases productivity and lowers overall factory energy consumption and emissions compared to premises not fitted with these technologies.
  • In buildings, intelligent architectural design and the use of sustainable materials in the construction process are augmented by smart electricity and gas systems that optimize the use of energy based on occupancy levels and prevailing external climatic conditions. In homes, smart electricity meters are linked to smart home controls through a central interface that can offer energy savings of up to 5% and, in some cases, the ability to sell excess energy from the consumer to the grid.
  • In transport, the use of on-board cellular telematics can improve shipping fuel efficiency and enable a more optimized model for cargo arrivals and departures from ports, due to reductions in idling time and better coordination with trucks for onward distribution of goods.

Having followed the rise of IoT and 5G mobile technology over the past few years, I concur that the "ubiquity of mobile and digital technologies in these examples demonstrates their ability to deliver greater energy efficiency and productivity for industries globally. This requires a long-term and holistic investment approach."

On the benefits of digitization going beyond decarbonization, GSMA Intelligence points out that "While industry decarbonization can help mitigate the risks of global warming, there are other important socioeconomic benefits." Examples include the following:
  • Public health outcomes – Reducing CO2 in the power sector will result in lower concentrations of harmful particulate matter and gases such as nitrogen dioxide. A similar effect is expected to prevail as electric vehicles replace petrol- and diesel-fueled cars, and through a higher share of the population working at home.
  • Economic diversification – Moving to digital operating models in industries such as manufacturing and transport will create new jobs and sources of national value growth. Digital operating models can also increase access to public services and civic engagement.
  • Productivity – Digitization drives fundamental improvements in productivity, which form the basis of new business models across industries.

Lastly, GSMA Intelligence asserts that its "research demonstrates the clear, practical and beneficial impact of using mobile and digital technologies in the largest and most relied upon industries. These are, in the main, ready-made options." The research organization importantly adds that "While investment outlays and deployment costs are required (a particular challenge for smaller companies), these will decrease over time as scale grows. The long-term return on investment from a financial perspective (higher productivity) and sustainability angle (lower emissions) is highly significant. Market participants in the telecoms, media and technology sectors are unique in being both suppliers and consumers of the technologies. In this capacity, we hope this report and ensuing industry case studies add to the best practice driving decarbonization in the years ahead."

How do you think mobile and digital technology can support industry's path to decarbonization?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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