Build Back Circular: How telecoms can lead a circular green recovery
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our perception of what is normal and acceptable. We still do not know the full impact of the crisis, but what we do know is that it is already shaping our future, says Dr Amrit Chandan is the co-founder and CEO of Aceleron.
The crisis has reinforced the huge importance of the sectors at the forefront of innovation. Secure telecoms infrastructure has been key to keeping Zoom calls connected, social networks operating and has enabled us to remain together, while apart. UK telecoms networks have seen a huge strain on their services with an increase in data traffic by 24%. But ultimately, hardworking operations teams and existing equipment and infrastructure have enabled billions of people to maintain some normality during the crisis.
Global disruptions have always fostered booms in innovation and COVID-19 is no different. Now, as we emerge from the crisis, the business leaders at the forefront of the telecoms sector must create solutions faster than ever to help solve this monumental global challenge.
Building back better
As the conversation now turns to how we can recover economically, we are also addressing the other burning global disruptor; the climate emergency.
COVID-19 has exposed the brittleness of a global economy built around the excessive burning of fossil fuels and a linear consumption model of use, discard and replace. Now the discussion is turning to Building Back Better, a movement focussed on redesigning the global economy in the wake of this crisis which prioritises sustainability and empowers us with the ability to tackle climate change. But what does ‘Better’ mean?
Fortunately, there is a ready-made model that we can look to – the circular economy. Circular principles enable products to be reused, updated or repurposed rather than replaced, ensuring greater resilience, huge waste reductions, financial savings and, most of all, long-term sustainability.
Telecoms technology will be the cornerstone on which we will Build Back Better. It is impossible to imagine our lives without the influences of phone and internet connectivity, and as this pioneering sector dominates our economies and leads the way in innovation, so too must it lead a circular green recovery.
The data centres that underpin the telecoms sector are incredibly energy intensive and batteries provide vital energy support to ensure they are backed up with an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). Traditionally, data centre operators have used lead-acid batteries in this role which usually need to be replaced every 5 years.
Many operators are now turning to lithium batteries thanks to the advantages that they offer; a longer shelf life than lead-acid and ability to operate at a higher temperature – an important factor when you consider that data centres can reach temperatures of 46 degrees Celsius. In fact, by 2025 is it expected that lithium batteries will make up around 35% of the market share for UPS batteries.
But the lithium batteries usually employed are usually welded or glued together, making individual components difficult to replace. If one part fails, the whole battery is usually thrown away – often with more than 80% of its potential life left unused.
We can gain a lot of benefits through applying the circular economy model to the lithium battery. By being able to repair, repurpose and reuse the components within the battery pack prior to recycling, it is possible to maintain and service batteries rather than replace them, reducing both waste and cost over time. In fact, with regular servicing, circular economy lithium batteries can last up to 25 years, compared to a normal lithium battery lifespan of 5 to 10 years.
Circular batteries also support green jobs. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has recently called for a ‘green jobs revolution’ to spearhead the UK’s economic recovery. Fostering battery repair specialists, in the same way that the MOT/repair garage sector works for vehicles, would support the growth of a skilled employment market centred around energy and clean technology.
An alternative approach – Building back circular
Telecoms is the foundation of our economy. It leads the way in accelerating both innovation and social progress and will be a primary driver to enabling a net-zero carbon future.
By Building Back Circular and embedding innovative green solutions like circular economy batteries into the telecoms sector, we can have a positive impact on the industry, whilst laying the foundations for long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability – a new society underpinned by sustainable growth.
The author is Dr Amrit Chandan is the co-founder and CEO of Aceleron.