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[ESG Case Study] How telecommunications companies can reduce GHG emissions? Insight from SK Telecom

Updated: Mar 16, 2023


SKT is a telecommunication company which belongs to Korea’s key industry which serves as a foundation for economic growth while subject to the government’s direct and indirect control. Due to its business nature, the company’s network equipment keeps expanding for more stable service while it is difficult to end the service or stop the operation at its own discretion. Therefore, GHG emissions are bound to increase. In addition, since it is a telecom operator, SKT’s energy consumption caused by use of electricity accounts for 99% of its total use, which means most of its GHG emissions is generated from electricity consumption. Although the company signed on for the RE100 initiative to replace its electricity with 100% renewable energy by 2050, there are issues to be dealt with such as stable supply of renewable energy and pricing due to the domestic regulatory limitation as well as lack of infrastructure. Given the circumstances, it is expected that SKT has difficulties in achieving the reduction target since the current market condition and relevant policies are not fully ready for smooth introduction of renewable energy.


However, the demands for low carbon transition are growing as the target for minimization of the global temperature rise was strengthened from 2℃ to 1.5℃ following the recommendations from the IPCC Special Report. The Korean government committed to Carbon Neutrality by 2050 and plans to raise the ambition for the ‘2030 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Under these trends, the pressures on domestic companies to reduce the emissions are expected to increase. In response, SKT also announced the 2050 Net-Zero targets, striving to make the green transition for the future on the company-level.


To fulfill the 2050 net-zero targets, SKT is engaged in various activities for better energy efficiency, such as cutting down on cooling energy consumption by resolving heat emanating from main and auxiliary network equipment, integrating network equipment such as base stations and repeaters, replacing old cooling devices, innovating the network architecture, as well as streamlining the network. At the same time, it adopts the use of renewable energy at its office buildings and telecommunications stations, by installing solar panels.


In order to improve energy efficiency within the network and cut down power use, SK Telecom is making transition of its telecom network, its main business, to green network by replacing old equipment, expanding application of Single RAN technology, and more efficient operation of base stations based on traffic load utilizing AI technologies. The company replaced malfunctioning and low-efficient network equipment as well as outdated infrastructure while expanding application of Single RAN technology, which integrates and upgrades 3G and LTE network equipment and thus decreases power consumption by about 53% compared with the previous use amount. In addition, a technology of AI traffic detection is used to automatically convert the power mode of base station into ordinary- or low-power mode in order to decrease power use.


SKT makes a great deal of efforts for GHG reduction through its low-carbon products. A case in point is SKT’s internal development of ‘SAPEON', AI semiconductor. The AI semiconductor is a non-memory semiconductor specialized in efficiency enhancement as it runs a large volume of computation required for implementation of AI services at ultra-high speed/ultra-low power. SAPEON’s deep learning computation speed is 1.5 times faster compared to that of the existing GPU with similar specifications, so when applied to data centers, its data processing capacity increases by 1.5 times while using only 80% of the total power capacity, leading to a decrease in electricity use and, thus, a subsequent cut down on GHG emissions.


Source: SK Telecom CDP Response 2022 (C2.3a. C3.3)

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