“The Internet of Things can help decarbonize our energy system, provide modern energy systems to every human being, manage our infrastructure, and allow us to adapt to and address climate change”. Arun Majumdar, Director of Stanford’s Precourt Center for Energy.
At the time of writing 134 of the 197 ministerial countries have ratified the Paris Agreement in order to work towards limiting the warming of the earth’s atmosphere to no more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Any increase beyond this is considered extremely dangerous by the overwhelming majority of scientists. To achieve this, the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 80% below 2005 levels by 2050.
Put into context, at current rates of decarbonisation, we will have used up our 2 degree carbon budget by 2036 – well within most readers’ lifetimes. To have a realistic chance of meeting a 2 degree global temperature rise limit we therefore need a step change in low-carbon transformation… and rapidly.
One of the ways of achieving this daunting task is through advances in machine-to-machine communications, or the Internet of Things (IoT), which can contribute to as much as an 18% reduction by 2030 (source: Ericsson). Put simply, IoT can be defined as a network of objects embedded with sensors, software, network connectivity and computer capability, that can connect and exchange data over the internet and enable smart solutions.
IoT is already offering unique opportunities for addressing issues like clean water, landfill waste, deforestation, and air pollution and ultimately will help reduce the environmental effects of human activities. To help illustrate its effectiveness in combating climate change, here are some useful examples:
Forestry and biodiversity protection – sectors that usually lack the financial resources needed to implement innovative solutions. Rainforest Connection, for instance, is a San Francisco-based start-up which transforms recycled cell phones into solar-powered listening devices attached to trees, that can monitor and detect illegal logging activities at great distance, thus promising to enhance the protection of deforestation-prone areas such as the Kalimantan region in Indonesia or the Amazon forest.
Energy usage – monitoring it makes it possible for us to be smarter about it. Take Nest for example. While an unprogrammed thermostat can waste 20% of heating and cooling, Nest tackles the issue with a smart thermostat that learns your patterns and automatically adjusts to save energy. The Internet of Things can save energy and carbon footprints with things as simple as using an app to turn off the lights or with apps like IFTTT, which hooks up to many different types of systems. The IoT can also involve monitoring your sprinkler system to save water, or use sensors to tell you to take a different route when driving to avoid idling in traffic and wasting gas.
Connected devices will change how humans relate to the environment, especially in urban ones which is where 70% of our species is projected to live by 2050. Thanks to data collected from sensors, smart cities can interact and engage with residents and businesses, creating a collaborative environment.