5G-enabled technologies could help to deliver huge emissions savings, which could accelerate the UK’s renewable energy transition by making production and distribution network more efficient.

That’s according to an economic modelling report commissioned by Vodafone, the results of which reinforce the environmental benefits of 5G Standalone (5G SA), particularly when it comes to making the UK’s renewable energy production and distribution network more efficient to further reduce reliance on natural gas or coal-powered generation.

The modelling conducted by WPI Economics for Vodafone in November 2023 revealed that harnessing the power of 5G in wind power generation could reduce total CO2e emissions by 63 million tonnes, the equivalent to taking 700,000 petrol cars off the road by 2035.

The study found that 5G remote maintenance drones could increase the energy capacity of wind farms by 8GWh by 2035, providing what Vodafone said was a much-needed solution for wind turbines that are often prone to failure. The study calculated that, over time, this could translate into an additional 27 TWh of energy output, and adding such extra capacity would be a significant stride forward in renewable energy generation when considered alongside the UK’s annual electricity consumption of 320.7 TWh in 2022.

More savings were identified by Vodafone research looking at the part that could be plated by 5FG SA. The research noted that 5G-enabled internet of things (IoT) solutions could take advantage of 5G SA’s low latency for real-time monitoring of wind farms to ensure operations can run smoothly. It also suggested IoT and machine learning could optimise the angle of each turbine, enabling them to stand closer together, which could lead to a 30-68% improvement in the wind farms’ capacity.

Another standout finding was how 5G SA could support a greener “farm to fork” supply chain, delivering significant carbon savings across UK supply chains. Vodafone noted that implementing 5G technologies across the entire food and drink supply chain could save a staggering 37 million tonnes of CO2e equivalent emissions between 2024 and 2035, equivalent of removing 78,000 delivery trucks from UK roads. 

In farming, the study observed that 5G technologies, including drones and sensors, have the potential to significantly reduce food waste on farms. By 2035, this could lead to a remarkable 6% reduction in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Looking at the manufacturing sector, Vodafone discovered that implementing 5G-enabled technologies such as remote maintenance systems and IoT tracking in manufacturing processes could contribute to an 11% reduction in CO2e emissions by 2035. 

Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) technology, enabled by 5G SA, could improve the fuel efficiency of HGVs in the commercial distribution of food and drink. This could reduce HGV emissions by up to 54 MtCO2e, which equates to more than double the total UK HGV emissions of 2021.

Commenting on the findings, Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK chief network officer, said: “Making the switch to renewable energy is fundamental in the UK’s net-zero journey and I’m excited about the role 5G Standalone can play in accelerating this transition.

“5G SA is critical in making renewable energy outputs more reliable, efficient and boosting capacity. This makes the need for a faster 5G roll-out even more important.

As a combined business with Three UK, when the proposed joint venture completes, we will be committed to helping the UK deliver on its climate ambitions by investing £11bn over the next decade in rolling out 5G SA across the UK…helping the UK’s energy industry to decarbonise sooner.”

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