5G, the key to unlocking a green innovation revolution

5G tower

Written by Lesley Holt, Accelerator and Communications Director at West Midlands 5G

Tackling climate change and the emerging climate crisis is a complex problem that requires more than a single solution. 

To overcome a problem such as this we must coordinate an increasing number of changes to the ways we live, from reducing our reliance on finite resources and single-use plastics to improving the circular economy of raw materials and mitigating emissions. 

This is where the value of emerging technologies comes in. 


Facing climate change smarter

The 5th generation of mobile network technology (5G) unlocks the possibility of the ‘real-time’ response, something previous generations have been unable to deliver. 

Now, however, we finally have the power and capacity to capture and transfer large amounts of data as it’s recorded. While this may make 5G sound like an unlikely player in the green revolution, this ability makes it an incredibly important ally in tackling climate change.  

Acting as a catalyst for new technologies and modes of working, 5G will enable the adoption of smart technologies – such as Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices – to make systems more efficient.

Taking IoT devices a step further, by pairing 5G with artificial intelligence (AI), it’s possible to process incredible amounts of data as it is being recorded, which could help to autonomise and modernise processes of work.

Being able to optimise processes at scale through smart connected technologies will inevitably play a significant role in meeting local and international sustainability targets.


What is 5G bringing to the green innovation table?

With faster speeds, greater bandwidth and reduced latency, 5G is at its heart an innovation enabler, and one that could be scaled quickly and efficiently. 

On a global scale, the Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for reliable digital connectivity. Mobile network operators are working hard to deliver and expand existing networks, upgrading infrastructure to more powerful 5G to meet increasing demand from business and remote workers.  

The infrastructure currently deployed to keep industries and people connected during the pandemic will equally power the solutions to help our environment in the future.


5G supporting our green future 

In the West Midlands, WM5G is supporting major new 5G-powered green innovations to prove the potential of advanced connectivity, data & AI and internet of things to reduce carbon emissions. We are working alongside the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) in leading England’s low carbon transformation drive, with a target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2041. 

Earlier in the year WM5G launched the Green Innovations Challenge. Led by 5PRING, the UK’s first 5G application accelerator and working in partnership with utilities provider, Suez, and the WMCA, the challenge supported 10 start-ups in their work to identify and develop proof of concepts. This included a scaling plan to demonstrate how they will drive real-world opportunities to tackle climate change.

The start-ups explored a variety of areas, from reducing pollution through optimised traffic management and improving the efficiency of energy production, to advanced asset tracking, recyclability, and deliveries.

The triallists have proved that 5G can optimise areas of work such as energy production by monitoring wind turbines in real-time to maximise productivity; optimising waste flows for more efficient recycling; or gather real time data to help residents in zero carbon buildings reduce their energy consumption.

It can make transport cleaner and more reliable too, leveraging intelligent transportation systems using radar to monitor vehicle and pedestrian flows. The information collected could go directly to an AI system which could take action and respond to traffic needs as they develop, changing signals or motorway speeds, and can build up a picture of usage over time to better manage flows long-term. 

We are currently implementing a Road Sensor Network across the West Midlands which has proven that sensors on road junctions can reduce road emissions by over 2.5% – a material change which contributes to the calculation that Digital Technology could reduce global carbon emissions by 15%, nearly one third of the 50% reduction required by 2030. 

Smart route planning apps could receive live updates for things like electric vehicle charging infrastructure or real time parking ability, which will help to make journeys more efficient. The connectivity will potentially even support the use of autonomous vehicles to enable more sustainable travel, deliveries and infrastructure maintenance.

Reaching carbon neutrality is a big, capital intensive task, but these start-ups have shown it’s possible to make environmentally conscious changes while making existing processes more cost effective.

Individually each of these concepts may not solve climate change, however as part of a 5G connected web of solutions deployed at scale, these ideas collectively contribute to reaching the goal of net zero carbon. 

I firmly believe real-time information and data exchange are key in solving climate change, an evolution made possible by 5G.

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