Is IoT Heating Up the Planet?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the way we live, communicate, work, and play. You are always connected — at home through a wireless home entertainment system, or in a production facility through connected machinery. The number of IoT devices is forecasted to reach 22 billion by 2025. If you are like me, you might wonder what the impact of all those devices is on the environment? Is IoT going to help us lead a better life or will it harm the environment?

When we think about climate change, the primary sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that come to mind are mostly from heavy industries like fossil fuel burning, mining, and transportation. What surprised me while reading the Journal of Cleaner Production is that information and communication technology (ICT) is consuming energy at an exponential rate. Our reliance on the IoT and smart devices accelerates this growth.

The incremental carbon footprint is not caused by the use of smart devices, but rather by their production. Manufacturing energy for mining earth metals to produce smart devices and waste disposal contributes to the carbon footprint. Because of the short lifespan of smart devices, the constant obsolescence and upgrades lead to unnecessary waste of energy and materials. On top of that, growth in smart devices and mobile applications drives the pace of data creation — both in type and volume. For example, the growth in data requires more data centers. Maintaining data centers and communication networks also contributes to the carbon footprint.

The IoT Today

Thankfully, it is not as bad as it sounds. The IoT is doing its part to improve and protect the environment for a more sustainable future. Governments and inter-governments are taking on initiatives to make the world a better living space through IoT.

One of the main initiatives is the transformation of major cities into smart cities. Investments for smart parking, road sensors, and traffic lights can help reduce the level of toxic gas emission. How is this done? Big data and artificial intelligence (AI) are helping to pave the way. Data collection through sensors installed along highways help guide drivers to take the right route. One wrong turn might not register a significant impact on the environment, but collectively, millions of unnecessary daily trips can have a substantial impact.

The smart grid is another initiative that reduces GHG. According to a report by Ericsson, smart grids are expected to cut GHG emissions 3.9 percent by 2030. Smart metering and power grid optimization are just some of the solutions that can help bring about a reduction in GHG. The steadily developing IoT-enabled energy supply network allows two-way communication between the utility and its customers. The electrical grid can respond digitally to electricity demands with less waste by coordinating energy conservation including energy generation controls and automation. The smart grid benefits its users by providing better reliability, efficiency, and most importantly, improved environmental health for all.

Carbon savings can transpire in smart farming or smart agriculture. According to Ericsson Research, smart farming could help with another three percent of GHG reduction. Farmers now have access to IoT technologies, data, and GPS to effectively manage their agricultural products. By monitoring variations within the field, farmers can significantly control the use of fertilizers and pesticides to increase the quantity and quality of their crop. Similarly, smart farming efforts like cow monitoring, also help facilitate GHG reduction. Farmers can now connect to the individual animal, as well as the herd, through data collected from sensors implanted in the cows. Farmers monitor their needs and adjust their nutrition using IoT. Having the ability to screen, treat, and remove sick animals is improving meat and dairy yields, while reducing over-treatment with antibiotics. These are all opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from a farming environment.

Fun Fact*: Did you know that a cow releases between 70-120 kg of methane per year? Methane is a greenhouse gas, like carbon dioxide (CO2), and it is 23 times higher than the effect of CO2.*

It should be a goal for all IoT solution providers to consider the pros and cons of a new solution to ensure it is environmentally sustainable and not taking mother nature for granted. In conjunction with Earth Day, let’s put our heads together and think about how we can make an impact to ensure our planet is sustainable for the future.

Keysight is doing its part to help keep the environment green by offering IoT test solutions. These solutions help you maximize your product’s power consumption through accurate battery drain analysis and accurate IoT low-power consumption test. Having a prolonged battery life means we can minimize battery disposal and prevent harmful substances from permeating into the soil, groundwater, and surface water. Keysight also launched its first-ever Keysight IoT Innovation Challenge — aimed at challenging students to make the world a better place by innovating low-power IoT solutions. To learn more, check out the contest page.