Telecoms power consumption grew 4.7% in 2021

Network operators — telecoms, webscalers, and carrier-neutral operators (CNNOs) – have consumed approximately 467.6 Terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity in 2021.
Singtel engineer installing 5G radio cellPower consumption by network operators grew by 9.8 percent in 2021 as compared with 9.3 percent growth in 2020.

By operator type, webscale power consumption is booming, up 19 percent and 25 percent in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Telecoms power consumption grew by 6 percent and 4.7 percent in 2020 and 2021 despite making investment in the expansion of 5G network.

CNNOs posted 16 percent growth in power consumption in 2020, and 15 percent in 2021. The CNNO segment’s data center specialists stand out as the biggest electricity users in the operator industry, as measured by power intensity (MWh of power per unit of revenue).

In 2021, for instance, Digital Realty consumed 2,094 MWh of power per $1 million of revenue, versus 97.6 for telecom tower company American Tower, 82.9 for wireless operator AT&T and 71 for Alphabet (Google).

Data centers get a lot of attention for their power requirements. However, despite the last few years of heavy data center investments in both the webscale and carrier-neutral market, these two segments accounted for 22.9 percent and 11.1 percent of total network operator electricity consumption in 2021, MTN Consulting said.

Telecoms are dominant, accounting for 66 percent of the three-segment total in 2021 (2020: 69.2 percent). Telecoms’ impact on the environment is even higher than this 66 percent would imply. For many telecoms, their electricity consumption is almost entirely based on fossil fuels.

KDDI’s electricity consumption from renewable sources, for instance, was only 10.4 percent of total in 2021. Moreover, telcos consume significant amounts of non-electric energy (diesel, propane, heating oil, etc.) to power their facilities, especially mobile base stations.

Africa’s MTN Group, for instance, relied on diesel for 46 percent of its total energy consumption in 2021. For telcos to really begin reducing their carbon footprint, big improvements in both energy efficiency and fuel mix will be required in their mobile access networks.

The telecoms statistics is based on a bottoms-up review of sustainability reports from 57 operators: 16 webscalers, 21 telcos and 20 CNNOs. The webscalers reviewed account for about 94 percent of that sector’s total 2021 revenues. For telecoms and carrier-neutral, the surveyed companies account for a bit over 60 percent of revenues in the respective sectors, MTN Consulting said.