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Digitization and connectivity, keys to decarbonize industries


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Digitization and connectivity can help reduce the carbon footprint by up to 40% in the four main industrial sectors, which account for almost 80% of total global annual CO2 emissions, according to a report presented by the GSMA on the occasion of COP26. The association of mobile operators considers that smart technologies and connectivity currently offer the key capabilities to achieve a net zero carbon emission by 2050, as proposed by the UN. “You might think that we depend on future technologies to achieve this, but we believe that many of the smart tools and technologies necessary to reduce carbon emissions already exist, especially in the energy sector,” said the Director General of the GSMA when presenting the report.


The Glasgow climate summit (COP26), which ended last Saturday night after a full day of extension, has been a failure because it does not solve in any way the climate crisis that plagues the planet. But, at least, it is recognized in the text that countries are failing miserably and that they will have to adopt much more drastic measures in the coming years to achieve a global zero carbon emission (Global Net Zero) in 2050, as the UN wants.


The change at the last minute from “eliminating” inefficient fossil fuel subsidies to “reducing” these subsidies, at the urging mainly of India, is what allowed the negotiations to be unblocked and the delegates of the nearly 200 summoned to sign the Glasgow Climate Pact. A Pact that includes the other essential and equally unsatisfactory aspect of providing financial support to the poorest and most vulnerable countries so that the global energy transition is as fair as possible, without concrete commitments.

Digitization and the smart use of technology can help keep the planet healthy and the energy production and steel and cement industries must lead the way

The signed text does not convince anyone, but at least the need to reduce polluting emissions is recognized if the planet is to be minimally preserved in the future. In reality, several experts argue, the latest semantic changes introduced are not of great importance. The fundamental thing, they assure, is that in the coming years, and as soon as possible, decisive changes are made to correct the course. The combined use of smart technologies and the change in mentality of the large polluting industries and of society as a whole are what can be an important part of the solution and save the planet from disaster.


Everyone agrees that reducing carbon emissions to ensure the sustainability of the planet, society and industries is a major challenge at the present time. Industries now have at their disposal multiple actions to reduce their carbon footprint, depending on the company or the country. In some cases it will be necessary to use technology, make changes in the behavior of industries and consumers, focus on regulation, or a combination of all of these.

Industrial path to Net Zero

The use of digital technology and mobile technology is a key component to achieve the transition to decarbonisation, says the report “Industry pathways to net zero“, prepared by the GSMA and sponsored by Nokia, in collaboration with the Carbon Trust. Ultimately, it is about acting very quickly and decisively, because another decade or even five years cannot be lost discussing what to do.

Telecommunications operators, equipment and software manufacturers, and partners that support the entire telecommunications ecosystem are determined to play a critical role in guiding industries toward digitization and low-carbon production systems. Especially, the introduction of the report is insisted on, in industries that use energy and raw materials intensively and that must drastically reduce their levels of polluting emissions into the atmosphere.


Four key industries (manufacturing, energy, transportation and construction) account for almost 80% of the total global annual CO2 emissions, equivalent to 40,000 million tons per year (40 gigatons or 40 GT). The remaining 20% ​​come from agriculture, food production and various natural sources of polluting emissions. The performance of these four industries is essential to reduce CO2 emissions by half over the next ten years.

Four industries – manufacturing, energy, transportation and construction – account for nearly 80% of global annual CO2 emissions, while agriculture and food is less than the remaining 20%, according to a GSMA report.

The implementation of specifically digital and connectivity technologies in these four industries would significantly reduce carbon dioxide levels. The savings with these technologies could be 40%, equivalent to about 11,000 million tons per year (11 GT / year), of the carbon emissions that these industries must achieve during the next decade and achieve the final objective of complete decarbonization ( Net Zero, in the jargon used) in 2050.


Mobile connectivity and smart technology are now suffering from “significant underutilization” in energy-intensive industries, the GSMA believes. Smart technologies could reduce carbon dioxide emissions from such facilities by 4 billion tonnes (4 GT) by 2030 and more over the next few decades if the goal of cutting emissions by half every decade is achieved.


The GSMA warns, however, that if there is not a very significant reduction of polluting gases into the atmosphere, emissions from large industries will not only not be reduced, but will increase by 25%, in a gigaton. This is what happens now, that the UN has been talking about the climate crisis for thirty years and emissions continue to increase year after year.

“You can’t be green without digitization”

The president and CEO of Nokia, Pekka Lundmark, who was present in Glasgow to present the report sponsored by his company, said that Europe “is well advanced on the issue of curbing climate change, but far behind in terms of digitization” . For Lundmark, both initiatives must go hand in hand, “because you cannot be green without digitization.” Currently, only 30% of the world is digitized. “We need to digitize the rest if we want to decarbonise,” said the head of Nokia in Glasgow.

Digitization and decarbonization are favored by mobile connectivity products and network services, which work in tune with the artificial intelligence tools and learning algorithms of cloud servers to improve productivity. The IoT sensors and the 4G and 5G public and private networks that are being deployed in the industry allow multiple solutions.


In the manufacturing sector, the report gives an example, smart factories consume less energy and achieve higher productivity when compared to others that are less automated and with less use of digital technology. In construction, intelligent architectural design enables the saving of materials and fossil fuels in buildings. And in transportation, satellite navigation systems optimize loading and unloading times and delivery times, as well as consuming less fuel. To achieve the greatest environmental benefit, however, it is necessary to have a logistical and long-term approach.


The decarbonization of the industry, apart from helping to mitigate the risks of global warming, achieves other important socio-economic benefits. As, the report points out, a lower concentration of polluting gases in the atmosphere, which results in a greater general health of the population. The more diversified economy can create more jobs and greater access to public services. Digitization, in the end, improves productivity and allows new business models to be created in multiple sectors of activity.


Lundmark took advantage of the event to recall that his company already makes efforts to make its radio-relay equipment much more energy efficient, as is the case with Ericsson, which has reduced the weight of its equipment and thus saves electricity consumption and ease of installation. Apart from that, with this, both the Finnish and Swedish companies can be more competitive against Chinese suppliers (Huawei and ZTE, mainly), the Korean Samsung and the Japanese NTT DoCoMo and Fujitsu. The latter are struggling to penetrate the European telecommunications market, now that politics has cornered Huawei (and them in the Chinese market, it seems).

Four industries pollute 80% of total

The four major industrial sectors produce 80% of total CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, about 40,000 million tons of CO2 annually. Manufacturing contributes 30%, construction 19%, transportation 16% and energy generation and transportation another 12%, while the rest contributes the remaining 23%, as seen in the graph below , extracted from the report. It is therefore essential to concentrate decarbonization efforts in these four large sectors of activity.

The manufacturing industry now releases some 16 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually. If in 2030, at the end of this decade, CO2 emissions had been cut in half as proposed by the UN, the emission of 8,600 million tons of CO2 would have been saved. If the halving continued in the other two decades until 2050, emissions would have gone from 16,000 to about 2,500 million tons. The use of smart factories, with digitization and the use of mobile technology, would allow energy savings and an improvement in productivity of 10 to 20% in the manufacturing sector, estimates the GSMA report.


The energy sector provides energy to the rest of the industrial, productive and residential customers, emitting together some 18,000 million tons of CO2 per year, 35% of the total (the 12% mentioned above refers only to its activity of generation and transmission of energy, not final energy consumption). With the 50% reduction until 2030, about 9,100 million tons would be saved in 2030. The transport sector now emits about 8,500 million tons of CO2 and with the 50% reduction, about 4,400 million tons would be saved. In the case of the construction sector, the 10,000 million tons would go down in 2030 to 5,200 million tons less, as seen in the following graph.

A necessary global effort

For this important reduction of polluting gases to take place, and thus be able to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and maintain the health of the planet to a minimum, the effort must be global and very determined from now on. If you wait a few years, the catastrophe may be irreversible for humanity.


As the report published by the GSMA says, digitization and the intelligent use of technology can contribute significantly to maintaining the health of the planet and everyone, and especially the industries and the energy sector, must lead the process. Any industry, as well as individual consumers, can help with more responsible raw material and energy consumption practices, with the “three R’s” of preserving the environment: reduction, reuse and recycling.


The fundamental thing, in any case, is to act decisively in the most polluting activities, because they will be the ones that will produce the greatest savings, simply because they are the ones that contribute the most to global warming. Within the manufacturing industries, the most polluting activities are metallurgy, chemistry or the manufacture of non-metallic minerals, such as cement, lime or glass. These three subsectors accounted for 75% of emissions from the manufacturing and construction industry in France in 2018 and 70% on a European scale, as highlighted in a document on climate figures in France and Europe recently presented by the Ministry of the French Ecological Transition.


In France, the document highlights, among the 30 most polluting factories are two steel production factories (in first and second place), four oil refineries, thirteen chemical plants (five petrochemical plants), seven cement plants and four manufacturing plants. paper pulp. These thirty factories produce 55% of the polluting gas emissions of all France, about 43 million tons of CO2, out of the total of 78 million tons emitted, highlights today an information published in the newspaper Le Figaro.


Only the ArcelorMittal industrial sites in Dunqueque and Fos-sur-Mer, in the north and southeast of France, pollute much more than the rest, with 8,000 and 7,500 tons per year, compared to hundreds or a thousand and a few tons of the rest of the factories in France. Steel production, carried out by ArcelorMittal, is the most polluting activity. That is why it is essential that these polluting activities reduce their emissions. The global steel giant has pledged to reduce 25% of its emissions by 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2050. Repsol is also following the same line at its Tarragona plants.


The French Government has just launched a plan precisely to decarbonise these thirty most polluting industrial sites, with a budget of 5,000 million euros. A commendable effort, but it must be on a global scale, because it is of little use for a country to do so. Or, worse, that the production of the most polluting products is exported to other countries. The United States, for example, pollutes less now than a few years ago, but it also produces much less steel and cement than before, because it imports it from other countries, especially China, as a raw material or finished product.


Europe and the United States could be much less polluting if they closed their industrial plants and turned to importing raw materials and finished products from China and India, as they have largely been doing already. But the problem would remain the same: it would stop polluting both sides of the Atlantic and much more in other areas of the globe, especially in Asia. Therefore, it is of little use to accuse China and India of the evils of the planet, apart from the fact that they account for almost half of the world’s population. This does not mean that the greatest efforts are not made to reduce the use of coal to generate energy and to facilitate, as far as possible, the use of renewable energies, as well as digital technologies.