Green telcos: What carriers are doing to manage energy-hungry networks

Green telcos iStockPhoto"Green" has been a telco industry buzzword for several years now, but some critics charge that companies are hardly following the green ethic. How much effort are telecoms putting forth to reduce their energy demands while delivering services?

As carriers increase the capacity of wireline networks to meet ever-increasing demand, the energy required to fulfill that capacity is also rising exponentially. That's part of the reason the Green Touch Consortium was formed to find ways to reduce energy expenditure as ICT transforms.

In fact, the Consortium suggested it is possible to reduce the net energy consumption in communications networks up to 90 percent by 2020, through a combination of "technologies, architectures, components, algorithms and protocols," according to a recent whitepaper. Those keywords cover a broad range of possible solutions--suffice it to say that remote-based practices like data center virtualization, as well as user-level technologies like videoconferencing, will play key roles in energy reduction.

Green Touch Consortium 2020

Summary of the Green Meter Research Study with energy efficiency gains, traffic growth and net energy efficiency that can be achieved in mobile access, wireline access and core networks. (Source: Green Touch Consortium)

In 2008, Tier 1 carrier AT&T (NYSE: T) established an "energy intensity metric" that measured kilowatt hours of electricity used vs. terabytes of network traffic. That year, the metric came in at 654 kWh per terabyte; in 2012, the kWh used per terabyte of data dropped to 281.

The carrier has set a goal to reduce its energy consumption by 60 percent relative to its network data growth by 2014.

AT&T's energy efforts have helped it make the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for North America for three consecutive years.

Verizon (NYSE: VZ) also publishes its sustainability results each year, and its energy efforts also reflect the growing demand for electricity to power increasingly fast data networks. In 2009, Verizon used 151.71 kWh per terabyte; by 2012, that metric was reduced 32.55 percent to 102.33 kWh per terabyte, based on a monthly average.

While other incumbents don't maintain as prominent a presence in sustainability reporting, their efforts are also notable. Cincinnati Bell (NYSE: CBB) established a partnership with white-label energy provider Viridian Energy in 2011 to offer "100 percent clean energy" to customers as Cincinnati Bell Energy. FairPoint Communications (Nasdaq: FRP) did likewise, partnering with Crius Energy to offer clean energy services under the name FairPoint Energy.

FairPoint, which operates in environmentally-conscious Vermont and surrounding New England states, has implemented a number of other sustainability and energy efficiency programs. At its Montpelier office, the carrier is connecting to a citywide, wood-fired heating system; in Burlington, it upgraded to LED street lights at its central office.

Frontier Communications (Nasdaq: FTR) touts its more energy-efficient bucket trucks, which have battery-powered bucket aerials, and its Energy Star-rated headquarters building.

Below are some of the programs adopted by carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), among others, to reduce energy consumption and emissions.

Carrier Technologies Reduction measures Realized savings
AT&T Solar power system at San Ramon facility;
Bloom fuel cell installations in Calif. facilities;
Deployed 7,000 alternative-fuel vehicles (10% of corporate fleet)
Environmental Defense Fund & Rocky Mountain Institute collaborations to save water & energy;
Energy Scorecard;
14,300 energy reducing projects since 2010
1.3 billion kWh in 3 years;
$151 million total,
$65 million in 2012
Verizon Investing $100 million to power 19 facilities with solar, green energy;
Developing more efficient ultra-long haul transmission;
Bloom fuel cell installations in 3 Calif. facilities;
1,604 green vehicles
Energy reduction measures (adjusting thermostats, motion sensor-controlled lighting);
Alternative-fuel vehicles;
Improving data center cooling
CenturyLink Deployed 464 flex fuel vehicles,
66 propane vehicles
Established an Environmental Sustainability Council;
Established Green IT program & Network Energy Efficiency group;
Submits carbon info to the Carbon Disclosure Project;
Partners with ATIS & EPA;
Recycling program
Total of 70 million lbs. recycled in 6 years
Cincinnati Bell Partnered with Viridian Energy in 2011 to create Cincinnati Bell Energy    
TDS Telecom   Data center water & energy efficiency improvements at TEAM subsidiary in Wisconsin $114,972 awarded by state of Wis. for TEAM project; $187,784 annual savings
FairPoint Idling initiative using in-vehicle GPS monitoring;
Upgrading Montpelier & Burlington COs;
Partnership with Crius Energy
  40% less fuel used
Frontier Battery-powered bucket aerials;
Energy Star-rated corporate HQ
Videoconferencing instead of business travel;
Remote employee training;
Lighting & cooling initiatives

Data compiled from corporate sustainability pages and news releases from each carrier.

Green telcos: What carriers are doing to manage energy-hungry networks