How The Internet of Things Can Fight Climate Change

In the past 50 years, the average temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history—and the vast majority of scientists agree that such climate change is largely due to human-caused pollution. In order to successfully fight climate change, we need to do more than change our behavior on an individual level— we need to develop machine-to-machine technology that collects and reacts to climate and energy data to reduce emissions on a broader scale. Here are a few such Internet of Things technologies that are already working to curb climate change:

  •  “Smart home” devices, such as thermostats and lighting systems, can recognize patterns in usage data, automatically adjusting to save energy during times they are not typically in use. Such devices can help you save money on your power bill, but more importantly, they can reduce individual households’ carbon emissions. Google’s recent purchase of Nest, a company that makes smart thermostats and smoke detectors, is a sure sign that the “smart home” device category is poised for rapid growth. Once such devices reach critical mass, they could have a significant impact on reducing our reliance on the power grid.
  •  “Smart grid” systems refer to IoT-driven electricity systems, which collects sensor data from power meters, voltage sensors, fault detectors, and other devices that are connected to the utility. On a smart grid system, the connected network can automatically detect changes in connected devices and their electricity usage, modifying its output in response to real-time data. For instance, if the grid detects that there has been no recent activity in a home, a power-hungry device like a water heater can be turned off automatically. One report by Pacific Northwest Laboratory estimates that such smart grid systems could reduce direct carbon emissions by as much as 12%.
  •  Smart parking lots and road traffic systems have already been shown to reduce vehicle fuel consumption. One smart parking system that tells drivers where open spots are reduced cruising time looking for spots by 21 percent; a traffic signal synchronization program in Los Angeles saved drivers 31.3 million hours of travel time and 38 million gallons of gas. If such technologies are implemented on a broader basis, they could play a key role in curbing the demand for crude oil and cutting back on vehicle pollution.
  • The Air Quality Egg is an open-source sensor network that collects data regarding NO2 and CO concentrations wherever the Egg is placed. Each Egg’s hyperlocal data is shared on a connected network, providing the opportunity for an in-depth look at variances in carbon emissions across the globe. While this device is new and not yet in widespread use, such technology has the potential to provide rich data analysis about how communities worldwide are curbing carbon emissions.

While Internet of Things technology is still in its youth, such devices are gaining traction quickly: A 2013 research report by Carbon War Room and AT&T predicts that the machine-to-machine industry will grow by 23 percent by 2020. These IoT technologies can offset carbon emissions by as much as 9 billion tons—perhaps, enough to set our fragile ecosystem back on course.

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