The End of the World? How the IoT Could Help Avoid Climate Chaos
I’m sure you’ve seen the recent climate change news. Authors of a report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say urgent and unprecedented changes are needed if we are to avoid climate change disaster. There are only a dozen years to act. It is imperative that we act immediately and drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperature rises to a maximum of 1.5°C. If we can keep within this figure then we will significantly improve our chances of avoiding the most extreme and fatal consequences of climate change.
This is sobering news. We must collectively act now if we are to avoid disaster and begin to mitigate some of the most severe consequences of climate change. There are many things we all can and should do. Other people have written extensively about how we can all be part of the solution but I’m going to focus on how the IoT could help to reduce our energy consumption.
Work smarter not harder to protect the environment
A report from 2015 suggests that technological transformation could play a huge role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It states, ‘Research shows that ICT solutions could help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 15% by 2030, which amounts to around 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), more than the current carbon footprint of the EU and US combined.’
Energy savings lead to cost savings
These energy savings usually also lead to cost savings, making these changes attractive even to those business owners who are more concerned with their profitability than with the environment. There’s also the good publicity of going green to consider. Whatever your motivation, making changes which lead to a reduction in costs and resource usage sounds good to us.
Farming is a major contributor to global CO2 emissions
Precision agriculture has a crucial role to play in reducing the energy usage of this sector. Sensors can be used to collect data which makes it possible to more accurately understand the needs of a farm. This will allow us to limit the use of pesticides, fertilisers, and water.
A large industrial farm in New Zealand deployed an IoT solution to automate their irrigation system. This resulted in a 50% reduction in cost in a little over a year as a result of lowering their energy and water consumption.
Reducing and monitoring our water usage is going to become even more important. Water scarcity is an ever more pressing issue and agriculture is a huge consumer of this precious resource. IoT enabled irrigation systems can monitor soil conditions to optimise water usage. Smart Watering Systems have been able to reduce water use by 30% to 70% for each of its growers. These kinds of savings will be crucial if we are to provide sufficient food for our growing population, especially in the face of droughts caused by an unstable climate.
Harnessing the power of IIoT
IoT connected sensors can be used to monitor machinery. These sensors can identify changes in patterns, new vibrations or a change in sound that indicate that a machine is not running optimally which leads to increased energy consumption. Sensors can pick up minuscule changes which would go unnoticed by a human. By alerting people to these issues early they can be rectified, which would both save energy and extend the lifetime of the machine.
Smart cities are efficient cities
IoT devices can help cities reduce their carbon emissions. Changes which may seem to be small can add up quickly when deployed across a whole city. Currently, most garbage collection vehicles operate on a standard schedule, sometimes visiting half-empty bins and sometimes leaving stinking piles of garbage for weeks. IoT connected garbage cans can alert collectors when they’re full and need to be emptied. This makes garbage collection more efficient and reduces carbon emissions.
According to Tim Wolf, Global Director of Marketing for Smart Grid Solutions at Itron, ‘The garbage app reduces energy costs by 50% to 60%.’ That’s no small amount and if you rolled this technology out across a whole country the energy savings would be considerable. There would also be significant cost savings and this money could be invested in further improving the cityscape, thereby creating a virtuous circle.
Green buildings are smart buildings and smart buildings are green buildings
The World Green Building Council is coordinating local efforts to ensure that all new buildings are carbon neutral. Some new buildings have already taken steps to reduce their energy usage. The Crystal Building is an example of how the merging of IoT technology and green architecture can lead to amazing energy efficiencies. Through a variety of systems, including automatic lighting and energy efficient ventilation, it consumes 46% less energy and emits 70% less carbon dioxide than comparable office buildings.
In the United Arab Emirates, temperatures can peak at almost 50°C. These extreme temperatures lead to high energy usage as people attempt to keep buildings at an equitable temperature. The Al Bahar Towers, in Abu Dhabi, has implemented an innovative solution to this problem. The towers’ facade is a mosaic of computerised, sun-responsive shades that fold and unfold in response to weather conditions. Normally, it operates in a pre-programmed pattern but sensors can open the units in the event of overcast conditions or high winds. The system emits over 1,587 tonnes less of carbon dioxide annually compared to a standard building facade.
We must be careful to keep in mind the energy footprint of our IoT devices as well. It would be pointless trying to reduce our resource consumption by installing an energy-hungry device. If deployed wisely the IoT absolutely can, and should, play a crucial part in reducing our energy consumption.