How IoT Can Tackle Climate Change

From water shortages to deforestation, we’re faced with global issues that require swift action. In an increasingly connected world, solutions for these once daunting problems are becoming real and broadly accessible. Groundbreaking applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) can contribute to solving these challenges.

Matt Rogers, Chief Product Officer of Nest, wrote an article on Earth Day proclaiming that, in the 150 years since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, “humans have excelled at developing technologies that improve our lives in the short-term without regard for the negative impact these advancements have on Earth, our shared home.” Nest, consumer technology companies and many startups are working to reverse those negative impacts by making energy-saving products broadly accessible. Rogers believes that addressing climate change has the potential to create “bigger and more inclusive” economic opportunities.

Beyond energy, a sustainable future encompasses our way of life and everything we do on a daily basis. Agriculture, food, housing, manufacturing, automobiles and other major industries will - and must - adapt in order to combat climate change. The solutions for these issues are more accessible than ever before, largely by way of the connected world and IoT.

IoT has already established itself as a driver of change in manufacturing. Scaling these changes and adapting applications beyond just increasing return on investment will result in global progress. IoT can closely monitor energy usage for a range of devices, extending their lifespan and overall reducing costs and the impact on the environment.

One of Nest’s primary products, and a simple application of sustainable IoT, is the smart thermostat, which reduces energy usage by adjusting to the user’s schedule and saves them, on average, 10-12 percent on heating and 15 percent on cooling bills annually. It also has the capability to warn users of temperatures too cold, preventing pipes from bursting, and too hot, signaling furnace-related issues, before they cause problems.

Outside of the home, IoT enables cities to increase efficiency within public transportation and traffic controls, as well as manage garbage collection and water and energy distribution. For instance, in our Emerge Accelerator with the Department of Homeland Security Science and technology, we saw several applications of connectivity for vehicle-to-vehicle communications, wearable tech, and smart devices for the first responder community. Additionally, cities like San Leandro, California have begun to lay the groundwork for addressing serious sustainability questions and progressing toward “zero net energy” by installing a mesh Wi-Fi network throughout the 15-square-mile area. In partnership with Climatec, San Leandro will run smart streetlights and street poles, along with other smart city technology, on the network. The project cost the city $5.2 million and will likely save it millions more in the years to come.

Despite the progress in recent years, we have only scratched the surface of IoT’s capabilities. Tony Scherba, president and co-founder at Yeti, cites the water crisis in Flint, Michigan as an example of an incident that could be avoided entirely with the proper application of IoT. Contaminant sensors could have discovered the lead in the water immediately rather than months after the fact. Scherba offers the California drought as an additional case in which an environmental crisis could have been reduced via IoT applications such as crop soil sensors to determine which areas actually need watering. Farms across the world have begun leveraging AgTech like sustainable crop management technologies to prevent crop disease and loss so that farmers are able to produce more with fewer resources, as well as make advances toward disease- and pest-resistant crops with each cycle.

As with the application in AgTech, the widespread access to 5G network connections, sensors, and more data than ever before provides an incredible wealth of knowledge and opportunity to generate revenue. According to research group IDC, IoT will create $9 trillion in annual sales by 2020.

Because of that opportunity, companies have built seemingly endless IoT-based solutions in search of problems. Alternatively, offering a more effective approach, Rogers and TechNexus CEO Terry Howerton believe that startups should avoid being a hammer in search of a nail, and instead solve known problems. Startups and established companies can join together with governments and consumers to reveal real-world problems and consequently solutions in unique spaces.

Striking a balance between economic, environmental, and societal perspectives as well as the communicative and analytical duality of IoT ensures that the future of IoT will bring progress.

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