An AI-powered system could help European telecoms operators pool their battery backup facilities for use as a virtual 15GWh green energy store, helping cut costs and balance electricity grids, according to the Finnish developer of the system.

Telecoms groups could “play a key part” in tackling the climate crisis by using the system to store surplus green energy and reducing their carbon footprints, said Finnish telecoms and digital services company Elisa in an announcement today (Thursday).

In a white paper, Elisa proposes that operators adopt the “distributed energy storage” (DES) model it has developed.

Elisa claims that by applying its DES system to backup battery facilities that “all telecoms operators are required to have,” telecoms networks can be turned into a “virtual power plant capable of providing balancing services to national energy grids.”

This would be “good for business, good for the grid, good for the planet.”

Elisa says that historically the telecoms industry “has been the world’s second largest user of batteries” – and that by pooling these it can create a virtual power plant.

With wind turbine and solar panel deployment expected to massively ramp up in the coming years, it is predicted that by 2030 EU will need 200GW of energy storage – up from 60GW today – to balance supply and demand.

“Against this critical need,” Elisa forecasts that there could be an “estimated 15GWh of storage available from Europe’s telecoms networks.”

To convert telecom providers’ batteries into a virtual power plant, Elisa said its system enables “load shifting” – the ability to buy power from the grid when it is cheap and store it for use when prices are higher.

“This power can be distributed throughout the network, or sold to the electricity grid when balancing is required,” said Elisa.

Elisa says its three-layer AI-driven system manages the “hugely complicated process” of distributing the energy and optimising battery use.

Elisa claims operators could save around half of their current electricity costs through new savings and revenue opportunities through the system.

It has already trialled the system at 200 of its 2,000 base stations for the Finnish and Estonian mobile networks, and will roll it out for the remainder by 2025.

The Finnish grid operator has given it “technical pre-qualification acceptance” to provide automated balancing services, said Elisa. It believes this is the “first time anywhere in the world that a distributed solution has been approved for the aFRR market” – a mechanism for stabilising the grid.

Henri Korpi, executive vice president of international digital services at Elisa, said every company in the world must not only think about how to be as energy efficient as possible, but also about the "role they can play in our collective and urgent need to address climate change.”

By using their “extensive infrastructure and assets”, Korpi said that telecom companies can “play a pivotal role” in that effort.