O2: 5G will play ‘huge role’ in decarbonising energy, transport and manufacturing

O2 has installed 5G in 60 UK locations to date

In a new report entitled ‘A Greener Connected Future’, O2 explores the impact which the UK’s 5G rollout could have on emissions from – and productivity within – the transport, utilities, manufacturing and healthcare sectors. Its headline finding is that the technology could mitigate 269 megatonnes of emissions over a 15-year period, equivalent to the UK’s entire domestic emissions in 2018.

Most of this benefit will be felt in the utilities and home energy sector, where 5G could enable the cumulative mitigation of 181 megatonnes of CO2e within a 15-year timeframe. The report states that smart heating could cut domestic energy use by 20%; highlights the increasingly important role which smart grids and smart meters will play in the energy system; and explores how 5G could assist the transition to electric vehicles (EVs).

“For energy providers, 5G has exciting applications that will enable sweeping efficiencies, including the automation of energy transfer from EVs straight to the grid,” the report states. “Energy providers could develop the capability to influence consumer behaviour to use energy-consuming systems at off-peak times when the energy grid is greenest, such as charging your EV when there is excess wind or solar energy within the system.”

Elsewhere in transport, the report sees 5G enabling more people to avoid commuting and business travel by working from home. It also touts the potential benefits of connected autonomous vehicles and of ‘smart’ rail systems, which it claims can be up to 45% more energy efficient.

Smaller emissions reductions could be achieved in the manufacturing (40 megatonnes) and healthcare (6 megatonnes), the report speculates, through automation and digitisation.

For these benefits to be realised in full, 5G must be given appropriate attention in the UK’s Covid-19 recovery package, O2’s chief executive Mark Evans said.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change’s high-level climate action champions lead for COP26, Steve Martineau, said: “This report makes clear that connectivity has a major role to play in reducing carbon emissions and rebuilding Britain. There is no doubt that connectivity has helped us navigate the COVID-19 crisis, enabling us to work and socialise remotely, deliver remote healthcare and order food and supplies like never before.”

The publication of the report comes shortly after O2 marked the installation of 5G at 60 sites. However, the UK’s wider 5G rollout hangs in the balance, after the government blocked Chinese tech giant Huawei from participating. The Covid-19 crisis has also caused significant delays to smart meter and smart grid rollouts and has proven fertile breeding ground for unfounded conspiracy theories about 5G’s health impacts.

Going green

In related news, O2 is running a week of offers and events designed to incentivise its Priority customers to adopt sustainable behaviour changes.

Through the firm’s app and social media channels, it will be hosting a virtual talk on wildlife conservation and photography; teaching customers how to grow their own ‘living wall’ at home, and giving away a dining experience and an overnight stay at a low-impact luxury hotel.

The most noticeable facet of the engagement campaign, however, is offline; O2 has installed a billboard complete with living plants in Shoreditch, on the corner of Commercial Street and Quaker Street. The billboard features plants spelling out the slogan ‘Go Green’, and is pasted with posters that are embedded with seeds. Passers-by can tear them off and use them to grow plants at home.

“Over the past few months, we’ve all seen the profound impact changing our behaviours can have on the environment,” O2’s head of partnerships and social impact Tracey Herald said. “We want to encourage the nation to keep up the good work and return to the new normal in a more environmentally friendly way.”

O2’s overarching sustainability strategy is headlined by a target to achieve net-zero across its entire business and mobile network by 2025 – a move it claims will make it the UK’s first net-zero mobile network provider.

Sarah George

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