Driven by media-friendly activists like teenage green Swedish sensation Greta Thunberg and campaign group Extinction Rebellion, the issue of carbon reduction has shot up the political agenda, with governments across the world being challenged to urgently address the problem of climate change.
Before she left office, former Prime Minister Theresa May committed the Government to make the UK carbon neutral by 2050. Setting aside the argument of whether this is ambitious enough -- or if it will impose an unnecessary economic burden on the nation -- there is no doubt that technology will need to play a key role in achieving this. At the heart of any plan will be renewable energy, the increased take up of electric vehicles, as well as considering more radical calls to cut air travel, or limit airport expansion.
One technology that has a vital role to play is the Internet of Things (IoT). But despite its importance, it has often been overlooked in the narrative. While replacing old coal-fired power stations with wind farms or swapping a diesel vehicle for a brand-new electric car are obvious symbols of change, IoT offers a more subtle but no less effective impact.
What IoT can do is make cities, homes, office buildings, supply chains, and factories among other things, smart. Smartness means connected devices, gathering data, and using AI and machine learning to make decisions. That smartness can save money and improve efficiency, but importantly reduce energy consumption, and carbon emissions.
Look at the home, how much energy is wasted because your devices aren’t connected. Smart meters tell households how much energy is being used. The next step is to get devices talking.
A washing machine that starts the cycle when the cost of electricity is lower, and the grid is less pressured. IoT and battery storage opens-up the opportunity for houses in streets to share electricity. The old coal-fired power stations are usually only activated when demand peaks so if the grid can better manage requirements, then carbon emissions fall.
Looking on a bigger scale, smart buildings can shut off heating, or dim lights when sensors detect people aren’t in the room, or the weather outside has changed. Tiny changes across thousands of buildings can have an exponential impact on energy usage and carbon emissions.
On a city-wide basis, the option to use IoT to better manage traffic and transport systems to reduce traffic will help solve the problem of congestion. This is one of the key environmental challenges as cities grow. If you can speed up the process of parking by guiding drivers to empty spaces cutting car journeys even if only by a few mins, creates enormous environmental benefits.
In the industrial sector, where energy use is considerable, factories are beginning to deploy IoT technology factories to create smart energy networks. Power use is managed dependant on need. A smarter factory better understands material consumption ordering to meet demand, reducing the number of trucks arriving at the site. Fewer journeys, less carbon.
The role of IoT in tackling carbon will be to make things work more efficiently. More data collection, better insight and innovation can enhance investment in technologies like renewable energy. We are still at the start of our understanding of what IoT can achieve. As businesses, homes, and governments increase adoption, new ideas will emerge. IoT can make a profound difference, and if we can reach scale, the 2050 target looks not only very achievable, but too conservative.