How to make IoT a force for environmental protection – Stacey on IoT
One of the most interesting features of the Internet of Things is its ability to make the invisible visible. This has huge implications for climate change and for the protection of the environment and people’s health. At the same time, IoT is also a growing source of electronic waste and electricity consumption. And so I’ve spent a lot of time over the past decade thinking and writing about the promises and pitfalls that IoT poses for the environment.
Since it’s Earth Month, and because sometimes it’s good to tie together a bunch of disparate ideas to help provide a fresh perspective, I’m pulling years of coverage which I believe clearly shows how we can use connected devices for the good of the environment while also mitigating some of the potential harms.
The growth of cheap sensors and cheap computing has made it possible for governments, startups, and nonprofits to track local air pollution at a much cheaper price than ever before. Startups such as Aclima and BreezoMeter are able to detect and share air pollution data block by block. Nonprofits are using sensors to monitor heat islands in New York City. The goal of all of these efforts is to provide information that citizens and governments can use to make better decisions.
At an individual level, a consumer can check the air quality before taking a hike or deciding to pack their asthma inhaler. At the municipal level, cities might be able to route polluting traffic away from schools or track damage from emissions from a factory. I would like to imagine a future where cities could sue polluters or tie tax breaks to companies that show marked improvement in reducing pollutants in the air or water.
IoT can’t just help cities and people track pollution; it can help companies adjust their manufacturing processes to meet their carbon emission reduction targets. I wrote on Schneider Electric’s factory optimization efforts, for example, which reduce carbon consumption by 12% the first year and 10% the following year. This week’s guest on the IoT podcast, Phil Skipper of Vodafone Business, also shared stories about reducing fuel consumption in vehicle fleets by using IoT to plan routes and track cars.
Skipper also explained how Vodafone plans to rethink electronics to use less materials and create recycling programs for connected devices. (Samsung has announced plans for upcycling smartphones, allowing consumers to download software that turns their phones into sensors that can help automate their smart homes.) Rethinking electronics for recyclability is essential. As if build better recycling programs so that users can reuse the devices or send them to manufacturers for recycling. But both retailers and manufacturers need to get involved.
Battery life is another area where manufacturers can step up. Replacing batteries requires physical labor, costs money, and results in millions of batteries loaded with toxic chemicals ending up in landfills. That is why I am looking for chips that can reduce power consumption and energy harvesting sensors that can replace batteries. Companies like Wiliot, Everactive, and Atmosic all strive to completely remove batteries – or, at the very least, reduce the number of times they are thrown away.
Even when devices are plugged in, the Internet of Things makes it possible to smarter energy grid that can better meet the demands of electric vehicles and bringing more electrical devices online. Smarter devices will also help reduce energy, especially if the device is a simple smart water heater or HVAC system.
It’s clear that the tech industry is trying to tackle climate change with real action accompanied by silly gimmicks. In the meantime, the underlying technology that enables the Internet of Things allows us to better understand the impact we have on the world. But to really help the environment, we’re going to have to build smarter systems that don’t just optimize for profit, but optimize reduced carbon emissions, the smart use of resources and air, soil and water. healthy.