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MTN, Vodacom up renewable energy investments

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Big telcos MTN and Vodacom are ramping up efforts to reduce their environmental impact, as they seek to enable South Africa’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

The operators say the urgency of transitioning to a low-emission economy that can sustainably support people and the planet is of paramount importance.

As a result, MTN and Vodacom are now focusing on extracting greater efficiencies from infrastructure and facilities, as well as investing in renewable energy sources.

Transitioning to a low-emission economy is a top government priority, led by president Cyril Ramaphosa.

In the last 24 months, government has through the Presidential Climate Commission been seeking solutions to address climate-change.

Now, MTN and Vodacom are also accelerating their plans to reduce their environmental impact in the near-term.

“MTN is continuously working to reduce our impact on the environment by understanding our energy consumption and its drivers, managing anomalies and rectifying issues as they arise,” says Jacqui O’Sullivan, executive for corporate affairs at MTN SA.

“We are also focusing on extracting greater efficiencies from our infrastructure and facilities, and replacing inefficient and old products with more efficient solutions, and investing in renewable energy sources.”

O’Sullivan says MTN has joined the GSM Association-led industry-wide plan to achieve net-zero greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement.

“The initiative will develop a climate action roadmap for the mobile industry, which will reduce the risks and effects of climate change.”

For example, O’Sullivan says, MTN is utilising its independent power producer licence for self-generation by using Combined Cooling Heat and Power technology (Tri Generation) at three of its switching centres, to generate 4 75MW of power to support its building electrical base load, therefore being only partially dependent on the Eskom grid.

“We also have 30 off-grid renewable energy facilities which generate an additional 57kW in remote areas where there are no space constraints,” she notes.

Vodacom says its pledge to halve its environmental impact by 2025 is well under way, with a target set to accelerate the reduction of GHG.

Within the next three years, Vodacom aims to diversify its energy mix, which includes buying electricity needed for its operations from renewable energy sources, it states.

Furthermore, by reaching this target, Vodacom says it will contribute nationally to a transition to a low-carbon economy, thereby helping government achieve its Paris Agreement goal.

The Paris Agreement requires countries to cut GHG emissions to keep global temperatures below 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

“While we honour our purpose to connect the next 100 million people in Africa for a better future, we do believe implementing this should not come at a cost to the environment,” notes Takalani Netshitenzhe, external affairs director at Vodacom SA.

“Our new target for energy consumption is one of the many ways we’re tackling our own environmental impact, because we understand that SA can only transition into a sustainable, climate-resilient, low-emission economy if everyone plays their part.”

Vodacom’s latest energy consumption target will see continued investments in energy-efficient solutions, such as solar-powered sites.

At present, Vodacom has 1 088 of these across its market and says there will be a continued focus on purchasing renewable energy through innovative power purchase agreements (PPAs) with independent power producers.

In the previous financial year, Vodacom sourced 1 183 898kWh of energy through such PPAs, which it says helped the company save 11 971MWh of electricity, while reducing its GHG emissions by 12 272mtCO2e.

Turning to the urgency of transitioning to a low-emission economy, Netshitenzhe says this must sustainably support people and the planet, which is emphasised by the Presidential Climate Commission.

“As we transition to a low-carbon economy, we also have a responsibility not to leave anybody behind. As such, climate change must be viewed through the lens of socio-economic structures.

“This is at the heart of a ‘just transition’, which is a plan for gradually moving into a low-carbon economy in a way that provides greater job security for all workers affected by global warming and climate-change policies.

“This just transition doesn’t rest solely in government’s hands; it necessitates collaboration of social partners – government, civil society, business and employees.”

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