The Critical Role of Internet of Things (IoT) in Fighting Climate Change and Decarbonizing Our Planet

The Critical Role of Internet of Things (IoT) in Fighting Climate Change and Decarbonizing Our Planet

We have a generational opportunity to use IoT solutions to curb the acceleration of human-caused climate change.

Consider these critical numbers in the U.S.: More than 60% of the primary energy used to create electricity is wasted during the conversion. Household water leaks waste roughly 900 billion gallons of water annually. Between 30% and 40% of food produced for consumers is wasted.

All the while, we witness gradual growth in global average temperatures, accelerated melting of the polar ice caps and more frequent severe weather events.

Climate change is real. The impacts are felt by large swathes of humanity. With continued growth in the global population and emerging economies like India and China forecast to grow GDP at more than double the rate of Europe and the U.S., the drivers of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are escalating, not decreasing.

We need to invest in solutions that reduce the global production of GHG. However, it's easy to become overwhelmed by the scale of this challenge and the level of action required to correct it.

Isn't the answer simple? If GHG is the byproduct of human economic activity, can't we slow down growth or rely on newer "clean tech" to solve the challenge?

Sadly, the answer is no. It's not any more realistic to expect developing countries to willingly abandon plans for economic growth than it is to assume that the adoption of new clean technologies like renewable energy will be rapid enough to reverse climate change alone.

This leaves a harder problem to solve. How can we enable continued global economic growth while increasing the efficiency of global manufacturing, distribution and consumption processes to reduce environmental impact? How do we "produce more from less?"

Clean tech has a major part to play in addressing GHG emissions by enabling modern production processes that are less harmful or carbon neutral. These technologies can help build new ways of producing more products with fewer GHG emissions. However, when it comes to legacy industries — particularly, "hard to abate" industries like mining and energy production— the cost involved in replacing outdated production equipment and processes with new, cleaner technologies is a significant barrier to adoption.

For these industries, we must fall back on the profit motive. The profit motive got us here in the first place by driving increases in global production, but the same quest for economic returns may also be the best way to help us change course. Why? The key to driving more profit from existing processes is to increase efficiency. The same efficiency improvements also reduce emissions.

While the motivation is strong, until recently, enterprises have lacked the cost-effective and easy-to-use tools needed to identify where processes fail, where waste or pollution occurs and where the opportunities to drive greater efficiency exist.

Filling this gap is the goal of the IoT — enabling the system-level data analytics needed to support producers on the quest for efficiency and profit. These solutions answer the question of how to produce more from less by helping enterprise customers identify waste, develop process improvements and monitor efficiency gains.

By instrumenting legacy processes to enable improvements that drive both economic and environmental returns, we can create a virtuous circle where investments in IoT solutions generate a rapid ROI, justifying further deployment.

Why haven't IoT solutions been more widely adopted? Because IoT solutions used to be complex and expensive to deploy. However, that has changed.

IoT solutions rely on the collection of operational data across entire processes or supply chains. The integration of that data with other enterprise data and analysis derives actionable insights. Historically, the cost and complexity of developing IoT solutions slowed adoption, reducing their impact on climate change. The cost of solution development combined with the operational complexity of deploying non-wireless IoT sensors (requiring power and LAN connectivity) is the biggest challenge.

The good news is that the rapid growth in IoT cloud platforms like AWS IoT, Azure IoT and others has addressed important parts of this equation by providing easy-to-use, cost-effective ways to ingest and manage large IoT datasets, leaving the challenge of deploying and connecting low-cost sensor networks in legacy environments to solve. Given the evolution of now widely available low-cost/low-power wireless to connect cheaper, battery-powered sensors using technologies like LPWAN and cellular IoT, there are secure and cost-effective ways to collect IoT data and simplify retrofit.

As a result, IoT solutions are now part of almost every enterprise's roadmap. Even applications like predictive maintenance, which used to remain the province of Tier 1 industrials, are now available to a mainstream of customers.

Together, IoT cloud platforms and IoT wireless technologies have "democratized" access to the world-changing potential of IoT solutions, enabling enterprise customers to leverage IoT to drive efficiency gains, savings or margin improvements — and to support ESG goals.

Though the task of addressing the global climate challenge may remain daunting, we find ourselves armed with the clean tech and IoT tools needed to address this challenge head-on. The industry is already showing potential as we roll out solutions, one sensor at a time.

Whether focused on efficiency KPIs, balance sheets or ESG strategies, if you're not already having conversations about the ROI of IoT and the positive fiscal, operational and environmental impact that decarbonization initiatives can have, start now.

We are the catalyst.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of Semtech Corporation or its affiliates.

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