The Environmental Internet of Things
Proponents of the Internet of Things tend to play up its strong suits, claiming that it will be all things to all people. This includes potentially benefiting the environment by making electronics more energy-efficient. Yet there are pros and cons to the IoT, particularly when it comes to environmental issues. Here are a few ways that the IoT may be beneficial for the environment, as well as a few eco-friendly challenges this technology will need to overcome.
Some reports have nothing but a positive picture to paint when it comes to the Internet of Things. According to a report conducted by non-profit Carbon War Room and AT&T, worldwide greenhouse emissions could potentially be reduced by as much as a fifth over the next decade. It’s estimated that 2 billion tons of carbon emissions could be saved by 2020. Due to the technology’s applications in agriculture and transportation, greenhouse gas emissions could be slashed by 7.1 billion tons.
How would this work exactly? By enabling machine-to-machine communication, everything from smarter electrical grid systems to more efficient HVAC systems in office buildings could be established. Public transportation could be streamlined to avoid delays or idling in traffic, while in the agricultural and manufacturing industries it would be possible to save water, power, and time. With a combination of sensors and applications providing continual, real-time updates, many different industries would become more efficient at once which could theoretically lead to a drastic reduction in carbon emissions. The Nest thermostat claims on its own blog that it takes just eight weeks of use to save the energy required to become carbon neutral, cancelling out the energy used to manufacture and distribute the device. If other Internet of Things products follow suit, they all could add up to a hefty energy savings and reduction in household carbon footprints.
Yet what’s important to remember is that many of these environmental benefits are still just at the theoretical stage. The Internet of Things is very much in its infancy, despite devices like Nest now being available.
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This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the technology can and will be used, and developers like Nokia Networks are still working out the kinks. In order to roll out a new generation of connected devices, there will certainly be some degree of energy expenditure in their manufacture and distribution, and some devices will leave a heavier footprint than Nest. There’s also the issue of the massive amount of energy needed for wireless networks to consider. The old generation of devices must be disposed of to make room for new devices, clogging landfills with electronic waste. Although these concerns would most likely exist with or without the Internet of Things, it’s something to keep in mind as we work towards a future of new, connected devices.
Building a more Eco-Friendly Internet of Things
When you look at the big picture, the IoT will most likely be beneficial overall for the environment. There may be some hiccups along the way that waste energy, before worldwide standards are set and while consumer devices are updated to reflect the new technology. Perhaps the biggest savings will be when entire cities are connected, allowing public transport and new construction to save energy on a large scale. Because environmental benefits are a major concern for world leaders and government organizations, it’s likely that the Internet of Things will be tweaked with this in mind. In the meantime, we can do our research and make careful purchasing decisions.
By Brent Anderson