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Powering green digitalization: Evidence from 5G network infrastructure in China

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Journal Article

Guo, Jin, Lei Wang, Wenji Zhou, and Chu Wei. 2022. “Powering Green Digitalization: Evidence from 5G Network Infrastructure in China.” Resources, Conservation and Recycling 182 (July): 106286.

While digitalization is changing the world, its impact on energy demand and carbon emission has been multi-faceted. This study analyzes the sustainability challenges brought about by digital technology, represented by 5G technology applications in China. We first estimate the CO2 emission results from the base stations and decompose the changes into four effects: terminal demand, data traffic, energy intensity, and emission factor. Data traffic is the dominant factor contributing to increasing CO2 emissions. The energy intensity decrease induced by technological advances significantly reduces the CO2 emissions. The effects of terminal demand and emission factor are negligible. We further project power consumption and CO2 emissions with mobile network upgrading to 5G in 2025. The scenario analysis shows that policies to reduce energy intensity are expected to curb power demand and mitigate carbon emissions. Under certain technology pathways, it is possible to peak electricity demand and associated CO2 emissions in 2024. Our analysis suggests that promoting technology upgrading, energy management, and technology applications to obtain potential efficiency, as well as increasing penetration of advanced digital technology, would be effective measures towards green digitalization.

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