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Energy consumption 21 Nov 2019

The Internet of things and its impact on sustainability

Industry and institutions consider the Internet of things an opportunity for the present and the future that will digitize many operations and bring tremendous benefits. But it also has the ability to help combat climate change and protect the environment. This is how the Internet of Things could impact the sustainability of the planet in different areas, such as water use and energy efficiency.

It’s a topic discussed in the corridors of large multinational firms and in meetings among global leaders and corporations on the digitization process. They all ask the same question: What role does the Internet of things (IoT) play and how can it improve industry and finance and provide benefits? The use of sensors and smart meters is now a reality in the insurance sector and banks are exploring the opportunities and challenges they pose for the future. According to the World Economic Forum report IoT Guidelines For Sustainability, “The Internet of things (IoT) is undoubtedly one of the largest enablers for responsible digital transformation. It is estimated that industrial IoT alone can add $14 trillion of economic value to the global economy by 2030.”

But apart from being a tool to increase commercial profit, it is also a facilitator of sustainable and environmental projects, and projects to fight against climate change. The World Economic Forum report notes that IoT projects can help attain the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations. These goals encompass ending global poverty, clean water, fighting climate change and industry efficiency and renovation, among others.

The impact of the IoT on water use

The IoT is a technological development that makes it possible to connect many different machines that collect data in real time and respond to specific problems. “It opens a world of possibilities and is a very important element for sustainability when trying to be more energy efficient and more careful with water use,” indicates César Guerrero, director of the eastern division at the Center of Excellence and Adoption on Internet of Things (CEA-IOT) in Colombia the head of an agricultural irrigation project in the country. “We can collect information thanks to sensors and a network of communications infrastructure, which will be analyzed to subsequently make decisions with the data.”

According to Guerrero, the efficient use of water in irrigation, one of the 17 SDGs, is fundamental for two reasons: sustainability and productivity. 70 percent of the water used for crops around the world is freshwater, according to UNESCO, and one of the goals is reducing its use. “Thanks to ground humidity sensors and environmental data, such as the rain forecast, we know when and where to irrigate with the right amount of water,” he explains.  They also help to resolve farmers’ greatest concern: productivity. “We act on crop performance since controlling the risk impacts the use of expensive chemical products and helps to increase productivity,” adds Guerrero.

Energy efficiency

Thanks to sensors, algorithms and different communication networks, today, when creating and distributing energy, automation focuses on a much more sustainable line. We can anticipate the electricity demand for a city or industry several months in advance, while the energy can be delivered to smaller, more isolated population centers.

According to the World Economic Forum report, so-called smart energy, or the energy used in IoT information networks and sensors for its storage and distribution, would enable greater efficiency, reduce the kW price and increase the use of renewable energy in the mix of energy sources. All of this could lead to over 1.3 trillion MWh of energy savings from now until 2030.

At the same time, large population centers will have to accept the technologies. Buildings and infrastructure connected to the IoT, as well as smart and sustainable transportation, are projects that could reduce energy consumption, improve air quality and reduce CO2 emissions.

Companies and their new corporate headquarters are also doing their part. At BBVA City, the use of sensors and tools using artificial intelligence to manage energy in the most efficient way possible have reduced energy consumption between 12 percent and 15 percent from 2015 levels, reducing CO2 emissions by 1.43 tons per year.

The future of IoT in support of sustainability

IoT technology aligned with the SDGs, has a long way to go. Currently, the World Economic Forum reports that 75 percent of IoT projects are small and medium sized and focus on industry, energy efficiency in cities, clean energy, health and responsible consumption.

In order for projects to grow, Guerrero notes, public-private investments is vital. This will generalize the use of IoT, lower costs and expand its use. “Training, raising awareness in society of the importance of sustainability and demystifying the technology are essential to developing IoT projects on sustainability on a large scale,” he maintains.

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