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The IoT and climate change

IoT solutions are helping slow the destructive course of climate change

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is about more than optimizing our creature comforts with smarter wearable devices, bringing new efficiencies to industry and logistics, and enhancing our homes and workspaces with more responsive technology. IoT solutions are already helping slow the destructive course of climate change. Global innovators are taking an active role, aligning IoT devices with international standards for climate protection.

 

The best-case scenarios that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes require aggressive mitigation of global carbon emissions, calling for them to fall to levels from 40 to 70 percent lower than their 2010 levels. And even reaching that goal will only slow global warming. At the new levels, the IPCC projects, average temperatures could still climb by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.


The IoT's immediate potential to reduce carbon output


The Climate Group, a global NGO, advocates a widespread switch to LED lighting, especially in public spaces and for street lighting, to cut carbon emissions by 1.4 million tons annually. The US Department of Energy supports those goals through its Outdoor Lighting Accelerator program, which offers technical, financial, and regulatory assistance.

 

Meanwhile, innovative manufacturers are dedicated to making investment in LED pay even greater dividends by developing city-wide digital lighting networks that function as IoT-enabled digital canopies. When integrated into these networks, connected sensors can enhance city efficiency, helping reroute vehicle traffic, for example, or making it easier and faster for drivers to park, further reducing emissions.

 

Ericsson Research projects that what they call the smart grid could alone cut greenhouse gas emissions by 3.9 percent by 2030. This steadily developing IoT-enabled energy supply network, which can detect and adjust for local changes in energy use, provides numerous green benefits. One small component of the smart grid, the smart electricity meter, enables real-time two-way communication between consumer and utility, making it easier for the latter to meet energy demand with less waste by coordinating energy conservation as well as energy generation. Utilities might start rewarding consumers for using less energy during high-demand hours, for example.

 

To help reduce carbon impact in everyday economic activity, the World Green Building Council is coordinating local efforts to ensure that all new buildings operate at net zero carbon. IoT sensors available today support all of the Council's main pillars, including reducing energy consumption, generating renewable energy on-site, and performing closed-loop measurement of carbon consumption and waste.
 

IoT-powered smart services and industry could account for a 3 percent carbon reduction by increasing efficiency and eliminating reliance on disposable materials (such as paper) in both the public and private sector.

 

Smart agriculture, according to Ericsson Research, could facilitate another 3 percent reduction. Today's smart agriculture efforts including better cow monitoring, which identifies ailing livestock based on the animal's position and behavior. Being able to screen, treat, and remove sick animals has improved meat and dairy yields and reduced over-treatment with antibiotics, while creating opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from unfit animals.

 

Crucial carbon savings can be realized in the developing world as well. Low-cost, low-power IoT devices could bring precision agriculture (which minimizes use of fertilizer, pesticides, and water) to modernizing countries much more quickly than has been possible up to now. That means avoiding years of wasteful over-consumption of water, fuel, and soil additives.

 

Early adoption of IoT monitoring and rerouting for oceanic cargo shipping shows that it's possible to reduce fuel consumption by up to 15 percent. Preventative maintenance that avoids five-week overhauls in favor of on-the-spot repairs could also reduce the need to build redundant fleets.


IoT's role in carbon compliance and governance


IoT sensors will be increasingly important in the effort to expand carbon monitoring and taxation. As the UN Climate Action Sustainable Innovation Forum has reported, only 15 percent of carbon emissions are priced and taxed today, and the group hopes for aggressive expansion.

 

Enforcing anti-pollution goals has long been a challenge for regulators. The good news is that climate-oriented public/private partnerships have grown in prominence during the 21st century. Enterprises, local governments, and NGOs have all increased participation in and coordination of large-scale climate change endeavors.

 

Coordination and enforcement can be tricky for these organizations, however. Private auditors and monitoring agencies can't always provide coverage, and smaller organizations may lack the ability to enforce standards.

 

Secure, tamper-resistant IoT devices — like air quality and other sensors integrated into an urban area's smart lighting grid, for example — could provide these bodies with constant and trustworthy monitoring and real-time reporting of actual carbon emissions and other polluting activities at sites participating in carbon reduction plans. This would help public/private partnerships enforce standards even in the absence of a true global climate change agreement.


IoT environmental sensors as a service, and the future


Given the wealth of IoT technology today, the world could quickly move to a connected and responsive network available to all. Researchers are proposing a standardized environmental sensor network driven by IoT technology — one step towards that goal.

 

Access to a verified and consistent source of carbon and climate data could help advance consensus and make policy easier to design and enforce.

Managing climate change with technology is just the first step. Public/private partnerships will need to grow and mature, and policymakers' commitment to investing in solutions has to intensify.

 

The Internet of Things, for its part, will do more than keep score. It will provide actionable climate data. It will cut waste by improving the flow of people, energy, goods, and information. And it will continue to adapt, as researchers and leaders reach new consensus on the action we need to take to protect ourselves against rising temperatures and dangerous climate conditions.

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