February 18, 2020 - As the world population climbs, arable land declines and the climate races towards a dangerous inflection point that many scientists believe is now only about ten years away, the Internet of Things just might offer some much-needed relief.
While it’s not always obvious what the long-term environmental impact of many new technologies will be, it’s absolutely clear that the IoT is shaping up to improve the environment in a wide variety of ways.
In fact, you don’t need to dig too deeply to find that the IoT, by its very design, is a “green” tech that’s poised to help mitigate problems that traditional technologies have wrought.
Predictive maintenance is often one of the first use cases cited for deploying IoT. Sensors and analytics provide predictive and preventative maintenance, saving businesses enormous amounts of time and money by delivering just-in-time maintenance.
But what’s less obvious is that predictive maintenance is very green. It prevents repair technicians from making unnecessary site visits, saving fuel and keeping vehicles off the road. It also extends the life of equipment and prevents unnecessary starts and stops – restarting heavy equipment is often highly inefficient and a significant drain on resources.
Smart buildings are inherently green buildings. After all, traditional (dumb) buildings are quite wasteful. One study in the UK found that more than 30 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings is wasted, and most small businesses have no energy efficiency plans in place at all.
But the IoT helps facility managers optimize resource consumption in smart buildings, as sensors deliver real-time data about resource usage like electricity, gas, and water. Climate control and lighting can be automatically adjusted based on the presence of people, and facility managers can more smartly engineer building usage to better cluster business tenants.
IoT systems let building managers visualize energy usage data and let them monitor utilities at a very granular level – in some cases, on a room-by-room basis. Once waste is identified, facility managers can reduce wasted resources using business rules or automation.
Water conservation, for example, is an excellent application within smart buildings. Businesses are implementing comprehensive leak detection sensors that gather real-time data and generates analytics about historical trends.
By automating leak reporting and analysis, one company reports having detected more than 850 leaks in 2019, saving more than 234 million gallons of water that would have otherwise gone undetected. Likewise, a Silicon Valley company has saved more than three million gallons of water across 450,000 square feet of landscaping at the company’s Palo Alto campus.
Smart cities are a logical extension of the success of IoT in smart buildings. Sensor networks will permit air pollution to be monitored in real-time, enabling problems like pollution and gas leak sources to be identified and remedied quickly.
The IoT is also on track to reduce pollution caused by autos on the roads. AI-controlled traffic lights can automatically adjust to traffic volume as measured by cameras or even the number of phones on the roads. And self-driving cars will drive more efficiently and predictably than human-piloted cars, which will cut down on greenhouse emissions from idling cars.
Agriculture may be the opposite of smart cities, but there are important applications for the IoT here as well. The IoT already enables self-driving tractors which, like cars, can be more efficiently operated without a human.
Another emerging use case: using sensors to perform very granular monitoring of crops, which will let farmers apply precise quantities of fertilizer and water to accommodate the needs of specific plants. This will prevent water waste and avoid over-fertilization, a common problem on many industrial farms. This strategy is working; Agrisource Data has saved over 770,000,000 liters of water and increased the average crop yield by nearly nine percent.
Mitigating species extinction is also in the IoT’s wheelhouse. The rate of global diversity loss is generally thought to be between 100 and 1000 times higher than the historical level, but sensors and drones are being used to study animal behavior, migration, feeding, and mating habits.
The real time and historical data can be applied to find solutions to prevent the loss of specific endangered species. In addition, these same tools are being used to curb illegal activities like poaching of threatened and endangered animals.
For example, low-power networks can be deployed in forests and other green spaces and connected to infrared and vibration sensors on trees. This network can alert conservation groups and authorities when logging equipment illegally moves into protected areas.