Climate change can no longer be considered a change, it’s now clearly an acute crisis. As the world’s population continues to grow, people continue to strain the planet’s resources, consume more and more goods, and contribute significantly to air and water pollution.
According to a Global Carbon Project report, total carbon emissions from all human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels, industrial manufacturing, agriculture, and land use, reached about 43.1 billion tons in 2019. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, global CO2 emissions decreased by 8.8% compared to 2019. However this reduction can’t be considered significant, as real change should be stable and permanent.
Despite all the environmental concerns, the production of plastic items is still increasing. More than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced in the last six decades—most of it comes in the form of disposable products that end up in landfills. Even with proactive global measures, more than 1.3 billion tons of plastic waste will flow into the world’s waters and enter the earth’s landfills by 2040.
The rising environmental pollution produced by fossil fuels has long been of great concern to ecologists. According to a new study from the World Health Organization (WHO), burning fossil fuels accounts for about 100,000 air pollution-related deaths in the United States each year. It costs the global economy as much as $8 billion a day.
While non-conventional energy resources provide a solution to reduce environmental impact, their widespread adoption has yet to be realized.
Fortunately, all is not lost. IoT holds a lot more potential than just making our lives more comfortable with smart wearable devices and home gadgets. We are already starting to see how the Internet of Things improves environmental sustainability, helps us walk away from the destructive path, and alleviates the worst consequences of climate change. This article will focus on how IoT could address climate change, benefit the planet, and help all of us live more sustainably.
Smarter Waste Management
By 2050, almost 70% of people will live in cities, a United Nations report states. A World Bank survey adds that we already generate 2.01 billion tons of solid waste annually, with at least 33% of that waste not managed in a safe manner. Without improvements in this sector, solid waste-related emissions are anticipated to increase to 2.38 billion tons of CO2-equivalent per year by 2050. Looking forward, global waste is expected to grow to 3.40 billion tons by 2050. Using these insights, cities and businesses should plan more environmentally friendly waste strategies.
IoT presents a massive opportunity for waste management companies looking to automate processes, improve operational efficiency, cut costs, and reduce solid waste. By 2025, the smart waste market is expected to grow to $223.6 million, with a compound annual growth rate of 16.3%.
Garbage Truck Route Optimization
Nine out of ten garbage containers are cleaned too early or too late. If a dumpster is only half full, garbage collectors waste time, fuel, and money. When a trash bin is overfilled, that also results in additional costs for cleaning services.
Garbage truck optimization is the most popular IoT-powered smart system use case in waste management. Such systems usually feature sensors, gateways, IoT platforms, and web and mobile applications.
Sanitation departments install a sensor in a garbage bin to measure how full it is, its temperature, volume, or location. Next, the sensors transmit the data to the gateway. Gateways communicate with an IoT platform and the sensor and send data from the sensor to the cloud. Finally, the IoT platform transforms the raw data into meaningful information. Sanitation workers get alerts on their tablets or mobile devices about the actual waste level of disposal units that need emptying.
Not only do digital bins optimize fleet logistics operations, reduce CO2 emissions, and fuel consumption, but they also provide useful information on planning the optimal distribution of containers and reducing the waste that ends up in landfills.
Automated Waste Sorting
Smart bins can also help automate garbage sorting. One such example is TrashBot, a product by CleanRobotics, a Pittsburgh-based startup. A smart container recognizes various types of trash and automatically separates landfill waste from recyclables. The system utilizes machine learning, computer vision, and a network of sensors.
Bin-e, a smart trash can (paired with an app), automatically sorts and compresses recyclables. The solution can identify and sort waste into four categories: glass, paper, plastic, and metal. Bin-e combines unique AI-based object recognition, waste level control, and data processing. Additionally, the app shows each bin’s waste level and sends notifications to sanitation workers when one of the containers is full.
Deploying IoT and sensor management systems to recycle batteries, old phones, tablets, and computers in a timely manner also works well. Battery-recycling kiosks let users drop off their dead batteries into a compartment, after which they are scanned and tallied-up into a refund.
Cutting Food Waste
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 1.4 billion tons of all food produced every year is lost or wasted somewhere along the supply chain. When food waste goes into landfills, it emits greenhouse gases and negatively affects the climate, contributing to global warming. To tackle this problem, people must first change their mindset. However, the IoT world can bring solutions to address the issue, too.
A new report from the World Economic Forum states that applying sensor technology to the food supply chain to increase traceability could reduce food waste by 7%. IoT implementation for real-time transparency and traceability helps collect comprehensive and consistent data about products moving through the supply chain from harvest and processing to distribution and retail. Sensors are a key technology for traceability, facilitating identification and tracking. Sensors can be paired with on-farm automation technology, such as milking systems, smart grain-drying silos, and new harvesting robots.
For example, a Californian company ZestLabs designed a ZestFresh solution that uses data from IoT sensors coupled with predictive analytics and real-time alerts to identify and prevent issues that lead to fresh food waste along the supply chain.
IoT for Smart Grids
How can IoT help combat climate change when it comes to energy generation and consumption? IoT-powered grids are self-sufficient distributed electrical systems that consist of sensors, transmission lines, radio modules, transformers, smart meters, gateways, routers, and software solutions that enable two-way communication between all system parts. Smart grids provide efficient power generation from various sources, including renewable solar and wind energy, traditional power plants, plug-in electric vehicles, and energy storage.
Energy-efficient by nature, IoT grids help save electricity, cut operational costs, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They also enable suppliers to immediately restore power after an outage.
The Role of Sensors in Energy Distribution
According to a report by Energy.gov, power blackouts cost Americans more than $150 billion annually, and it is estimated that 90% of these failures take place on distribution grids. Since traditional grids lack real-time monitoring and control, they remain in use until they fail or cause a power cut.
In contrast to distribution grids, sensor-enabled grids monitor the status of a system in real time and use the data to quickly respond to changes. Sensors play a crucial role in smart grid management: they measure electrical and physical parameters in power generation, substations, distribution lines, transmission lines, energy storage, and customer facilities. Grid sensors allow engineers to deal with distributed generators and electric vehicle power management, boost the smart grid’s reliability and stability, and operate the grid in a secure way.
One such example is Ameresco, a Massachusetts-based provider of energy infrastructure services that focus on energy efficiency and renewables. The company offers a wide range of products, including energy efficiency solutions, distributed generation, microgrids and storage systems, and energy infrastructure projects.
Green Energy Generation and Integration
With the help of IoT, smart grids take a step further to move the energy industry into a new level of sustainability, reduce CO2 emissions, and improve environmental health.
IoT technologies offer new options for getting power from renewable resources and integrating variable large-scale renewable energy systems into power grids. With the help of wireless smart meters installed in smart grids, energy generated by solar panels or windmills can be tracked and reimbursed. The smart grid also makes it possible to monitor solar panels and equipment.
For example, Schneider Electric offers a solar solution for integrating and connecting photovoltaic cells, including power conversion (inverters, transformers, switchgear), electrical distribution, monitoring, supervision, and technical support. Schneider Electric provides the full solution from the panel DC output to the grid connection.
IoT and Climate Change in Smart Cities
With the growth of urban populations, cities are getting smarter and smarter. IoT-powered systems connect buildings, transportation systems, and energy units. This makes urban life more convenient and attractive, creates a collaborative environment, and increases the efficiency of daily services.
Cities around the world continue to experience a steady increase in congestion. Smart technologies can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve the mental and physical health of urban citizens, save money, and modernize workflows.
According to experts from Sweco, a European engineering consultancy company active in consulting engineering, environmental technology, and architecture, the rapid development of IoT solutions offers new possibilities to increase the capacity of existing infrastructure. Sweco also states that communication between road users and traffic systems, and cheaper IoT sensors provide more traffic information for the systems to optimize flows. With IoT it’s also possible to guide drivers around congested areas, dividing the load over the network more equally.
The most popular solutions to ease traffic congestion usually use smart algorithms to detect traffic jams and incidents and reroute cars in a balanced way to return traffic back to normal. For example, TrafficVision—an image-processing solution for effectively collecting data and detecting traffic incidents in real time. The solution presents traffic data via a web interface, and then the information is captured for database storage, analysis, and reporting. TrafficVision identifies wrong-way drivers, recent accidents, and debris on the road, and sends the video clips to the cloud.
Smart Parking Systems
According to an analysis by INRIX, a leading specialist in connected car services and transportation analytics, drivers spend an average of 17 hours a year searching for parking spots. Moreover, it costs $345 per driver in wasted time, fuel, and emissions. Tapping IoT-enabled parking solutions can help improve parking in large cities, reduce parking-related accidents and time spent searching for a free spot, and increase drivers’ comfort.
A startup offering on-demand parking and valet services, turned to Softeq to create a mobile app that allows users to conveniently book and pay for valet parking services. The app uses Apple Maps to locate the nearest valet parking services, provides detailed information on available parking locations, navigates users to selected valet pick-up points, and generates QR codes that can be scanned for checking in and out of secured parking areas.
Smart parking systems utilize ultrasonic, electromagnetic field detection, or infrared sensors installed in each parking place. Sensors gather information on the status of parking spaces and transmit it to a cloud server. Drivers receive a live update about the availability of all parking spots and choose a vacant one.
The climate crisis is equally relevant to everyone on this planet, as it is mostly caused by human activity. IoT solutions already demonstrate how innovation can promote sustainability. People should team up with technology to improve resource efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the recycling industry, and improve lives around the world.
Vera Solovyova is a Copywriter at Softeq–a full-stack development company and an Inc. 5000 honoree. We craft quality content to assist tech startups and large enterprises in engineering, transforming and scaling smart technology systems.