iot and sustainability

IoT and Sustainability: The Environmental Impact of the Internet of Things 

As a company that offers an IoT development studio and a cloud data science platform that thrive on developments such as cloud computing, we are concerned about the environmental impact of our work. It turns out that uniting IoT and sustainability can be a powerful way of reducing global emissions.

Our research has shown that, while the digital turn is a major contributor to global emissions, streamlining processes with IoT can indeed help reduce your carbon footprint. 

Digital Services and Climate Change

The onslaught of digital services means that data centers currently account for about 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The speed of growth here is only matched by air travel. Data centers power music and video streaming, social media, entertainment, and cloud computing. Apart from massive power consumption demands, servers generate a lot of heat. They also require tremendous amounts of energy to keep cool. Global corporations, reportedly, are already working towards a 100% renewable energy target to match annual electricity consumption. 

A survey on the state of global environmental sustainability in data center design paints a bleak picture. Of the surveyed 361 global IT decision-makers, only 28% consider environmental issues in the selection of data center technology. Getting data centers to run on renewable energy alone is quite an undertaking. And then again, this is only a fraction of the effort to be put toward sustainability in the digital realm before we start to see tangible change.  

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that average temperatures could climb by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050. This can have a far-reaching impact on biodiversity and ecosystems. A climate crisis is already coming to our doorstep. And while governments are working to establish actionable targets, the reality of their implementation and feasibility is yet to be put to the test. 

Why do we care? Developments in the digital realm and, most significantly, the speed of growth in digital services, are impacting planetary life on an unprecedented scale. We are all in this together. And our very work, powered by servers and enabled by cloud computing, is part of the stakes. Perhaps, however, it is exactly these developments that can also help us unite IoT and sustainability to offset the progress of this storm.  

IoT and the Next Digital Evolution 

As part of the second digital turn, the Internet of Things (IoT) is enhancing both human and nonhuman lives. IoT is instrumental in optimizing human comfort. But it is also introducing new awareness in the way we approach Things. Wearable devices, novel solutions in industry and logistics including remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, and remote control, as well as a growing trend toward living space enhancement and optimized working environments are all assets that have been made possible because of IoT. 

Devices, in turn, are becoming increasingly responsive. Entire cityscapes are changing. Digital canopies of networked IoT devices are now cast over streets and buildings. Sensors reroute traffic and enhance energy efficiency within the city in a concerted interpermeation of people and Things.

Further still, we are experiencing a shift in the very way we conceptualize data architectures. Digitally intelligent architectures no longer look the way they used to do. Second-generation AI, Big Data, and cloud computing are disrupting the way things are made, the way they look, the way they are handled, and the way of thinking that is behind them. 

And most significantly, we inhabit realms of enhanced connectivity, immediacy, and transversality. The increasingly dissolving boundary between human and nonhuman agency also brings forth a novel awareness toward environmental concerns. Solutions combining IoT and sustainability are already in place to slow the course of climate change. Innovators are taking an active role, both in terms of aligning IoT devices with international standards for climate protection and in terms of making IoT work in favour of the environment.

IoT Innovations in Sustainable Development

Energy

As a major driver of accountability, the energy sector is looking for ways to make amends and reduce carbon impact. An expanding body of research and reports is coming from both public institutions and the private sector. These range from front-line solutions in energy harvesting, operational optimization in wind farms and power plants, to scenarios for deploying energy management systems using current IoT platform integration trends. 

IoT facilitates typical tasks such as automated maintenance and reporting, data collection, analytics, and optimizing smart grids. But it is also an established presence when it comes to smart home devices for heating, air conditioning, and lighting. IoT sensors reduce energy consumption, generate renewable energy on-site, and measure carbon consumption plus waste. A recent report has revealed that ‘smart’ measures in the energy sector have been projected to result in saving more than 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per annum.

Precision agriculture

IoT-powered precision agriculture can be another facilitator of change. Producing more and wasting less is the major rationale behind smart, data-driven agricultural solutions. IoT is already in place when it comes to monitoring crops and soil conditions, screening and treating farm animals, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Agricultural irrigation is also at stake. Water scarcity is a top issue as agriculture accounts for 90% of global water consumption. IoT-enabled irrigation systems optimize water consumption and minimize waste.

Maritime cargo shipping

Another area in need of attention is maritime cargo shipping. Transporting 90% of the goods traded globally by volume, oceanic cargo ships are moving oil, electronics, clothing, and food. A main driver of the global economy, oceanic cargo shipping consumes roughly 300 million tons of dirty fuel per annum. This results in 949 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. The shipping industry is producing, alone and for itself, nearly 3% of carbon emissions worldwide. Early adoption of IoT monitoring and rerouting for oceanic cargo shipping can reduce fuel consumption by up to 15%

Another specialty of IoT, predictive maintenance, can avoid week-long overhauls and facilitate timely repairs. In the long run, this can extend the life cycle of existing fleets and minimize the need for fleet rejuvenation.

How You Reduce Your Carbon Footprint with IoT

Back in 2016, SAP’s Chief Futurist Kai Goerlich said “It’s tough to predict how much additional infrastructure will be needed in the future, but our analysis shows the IoT’s potential in significantly saving carbon emissions. And if current conditions persist, it may even save more carbon than it’s using.” In the meantime, IoT has facilitated connectivity, enhanced responsivity, near-full automation, and a shift from static products to services available to all.

In an official analysis of the European Commission dated November 2018, the Internet of Things was named a transition enabler in how buildings, appliances and the energy systems of buildings can be synchronized to optimize energy flows and reduce emissions. Once fully operational, IoT has been projected to reduce global carbon emissions by around 20%

The shift toward heightened awareness for environmental issues is a chance for companies to look beyond traditional climate management. Implementing novel solutions is taking place at every conceivable organizational level. Combining IoT and sustainability has many faces. Connecting different devices and older-generation equipment, overcoming the brownfield hurdle, and actually getting rewired for the Internet of Things are all challenges that need to be faced. One possibility to do this is by introducing lightweight IoT-enabling solutions such as IoT platforms. These come with their own infrastructure and toolchain. 

An IoT Development Studio for More Connectivity and Less Carbon Emissions

This is where our work comes in. Over the past two years, we have worked on Reswarm, an Industrial IoT (IIoT) development studio with IoT device management and app development capabilities. Reswarm enables companies to build, configure, and manage device swarms within a fully customizable and scalable digital platform. Remote device management, remote app development, and the deployment of devices, as well as the configuration of IIoT data streaming, are offered within a SaaS setting that is intuitive and easy to use. 

Specifically, Reswarm allows you to integrate a cloud data science platform (such as Repods) to load your IoT data. There, you perform advanced analytics and train machine learning models that you can roll out on your IoT devices with Reswarm. You roll out these apps on the IoT devices in near real-time and get instant feedback from the devices. 

In this way, companies can create a full-circle IoT solution encompassing data collection, analytics, the training of ML models, device management, app development, and app deployment over the air. Our effort has been to build a lean service that unites IoT and sustainability with the combined assets of IoT connectivity and cloud computing. 

You can connect your first five IoT devices for free and try out the platform here.


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