Is IIoT Our Saviour Against Climate Change?

Dan Butler
Sun, 21 Jan 2018
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The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is expanding at an incredible rate.

 The total number of connected devices is set to surpass 60 billion during 2016 and the IIoT industry is forecasted to produce $14.4 trillion in increased revenues by the year 2022.

The remarkable expansion of the IIoT is partly due to the wide variety of industrial applications it offers, but is also due to the competitive advantages it can offer at a corporate level in terms of efficiency and productivity. Nevertheless, the proliferation of IIoT will not only benefit the private sector as, according to a recent report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, it also has the potential to present extensive environmental benefits too.

 With the global population expected to reach 10 billion in 2020, the pressure put on tackling climate change and managing the earth’s resources will only grow greater. The approach to protecting the environment demands multifaceted solutions, which is where the multifaceted applications of the IIoT can play a crucial role.

 A study published in November 2015 by Swedish telecoms company Ericsson, in fact, asserts that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) could potentially reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by up to 63.5 gigatonnes by 2030. Moreover, given the IIoT’s potential to integrate different industries, we could witness an unprecedented reduction of industries’ environmental footprint, which will result from savings in energy use and the development of smarter solutions.

 By the same token, all of those industries will then have the incentive to expand the adoption of IIoT technology in order to evolve and remain competitive on the global stage. Therefore, IIoT may well be viewed as a revolutionary – and economically viable – force in the battle against climate change.

 Though the disruptive potential of cost-reducing, productivity-increasing IIoT technologies is fairly straightforward, and considering the devastating consequences of climate change, the expansion of the IIoT will also be beneficial for the following, less obvious reasons:

• Tackling deforestation will be crucial in combating climate change. IIoT will benefit less commercially viable areas, such as forestry and conservation, which typically lack the financial support required to implement innovative solutions. For example, a San Franciscan startup called Rainforest Connection is using reconfigured mobile phones as listening devices to stop illegal logging in the Amazon. The solar-powered phones are attached to trees and alert Amazon rainforest authorities when they detect the sound of distant deforestation.

 • Sharing IIoT innovations in agriculture will directly improve the living conditions of low-income populations in developing countries who are reliant on agriculture for their livelihoods, while also reducing the environmental effects of global agricultural activities. In fact, the International Telecommunication Union states that rural areas are becoming increasingly connected to the Internet, electricity and mobile phones. Even with economic and infrastructural barriers, the gradual proliferation of sensors and connected devices may lead to the employment of precision agriculture techniques that reduce the need for potentially harmful inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers. Weather forecasting systems can also help farmers deal with extreme weather events such as droughts or storms.

• IIoT provides a great platform for public-private partnership opportunities. The unprecedented growth of the global population, especially in urban environments, has underlined the importance of intensified public-private collaboration in smart cities to deliver more scalable low-carbon development strategies. A current example of such a partnership can be seen in China where IBM’s China Research Lab is collaborating with the Beijing Environmental Protection Bureau (BEPB) to build an air quality forecasting system, which allows for better analysis on where the most polluted areas of Beijing are located.

New cases that demonstrate the application of IIoT technology in tackling environmental problems are emerging all of the time. In Australia, for instance, the Marine Observing System is fitting smart sensors to buoys to collect data from the waters around the Great Barrier Reef in order to monitor biodiversity, fish movement and damage to the coral reef. Also, in California, a synchronisation program for LA’s traffic signals has saved drivers approximately 30 million travel hours and over 35 million gallons of fuel. This technology could one day be implemented across the globe to reduce crude oil demand and massively reduce vehicle pollution.

 The examples listed above show how expansive the potential environmental benefits of implementing IIoT technology could be. “The IIoT may still be in its embryonic stages but its presence could soon become ubiquitous, producing revolutionary solutions in practically all industries,” explains Charles King, Head of IIoT at Challenge Advisory. “What may prove to be of more significant consequence, though, will be the incentives IIoT engenders to rapidly accelerate large-scale transition towards a more sustainable low-carbon economy. “ In summary, IIoT solutions demonstrate how technological innovation can drive sustainability and resource conservation; while at the same time stimulate economic growth and productivity. IIoT’s expansion therefore represents an economically exceptional win-win solution whose real potential is virtually boundless.