The applications, benefits and potential of Internet of Things (IoT) have been the daily discussion among professionals in the high tech industry every day. People are excited about the “smartness” brought by IoT to different aspects of the society, such as smart cities, smart power grids, smart wearables, smart supply chain, etc. While everyone is looking closely at the impact of IoT on social life and manufacturing, the environmental impact of IoT did not receive the same degree of attention and urgency.
For instance, IoT could have tremendous positive impacts on environment. Pocket-sized environmental sensors can now be carried around, monitoring the airborne quality, radiation, water quality, hazardous airborne chemicals and many other environment indicators. Infants, asthma patients and people working in hazardous or radiation prone environments could benefit from such information. Connected with smart phones through Bluetooth and Wifi allows sensors to send enormous amounts of data to the network. This allows us to have a better understanding of our surroundings and prepares us to find suitable solutions for environmental problems.
The success stories in IoT in smart agriculture show great potential in saving resources. Through sensors, Internet and scientific knowledge, growers of tulips in the Netherlands can monitor and fine-tune their production process based on weather, humility and sunlight. A university in Chile announced that they could reduce 70% of water consumption in blueberry farms through an IoT based approach. Within the agriculture sector it is estimated that by 2020 IoT could save 1.6 Gt of CO2. We will be able to grow more food with fewer resources, which is quite a big deal for the already over-populated mother earth.
Another area where IoT could benefit the environment is by reducing CO2 emissions. As the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities, CO2 accounts for 82% of U.S. greenhouse emissions in 2013. IoT enabled smart grids in the energy sector could save over 2.0 Gt of CO2 though implementation of smart meters and demand-response systems. Moreover, by improving energy efficiency with optimized routes of transportation, IoT could reduce about 1.9Gt of CO2 in 5 years. With more IoT applications become available, we are expecting to see broader positive impacts on the environment.
On the other hand, IoT has also brought challenges to the environment. The first question we are facing is the e-waste (waste of electrical and electronic equipment) problem. With hundreds and thousands of IoT devices pouring into the market in the next few years, the old-not-IoT-ready devices may end up in landfills. Eventually, the next generation of IoT devices will be obsolete due to hardware upgrade. There was already 53 million metric tons of e-waste disposed worldwide in 2013.With the speed of IoT development, the number is expected to accelerate. The problem may not be obvious now, but we need to take that into consideration for a sustainable world development.
The second challenge is energy consumption. IoT networks require giant data centers to process and support their needs. As a result, the energy consumption by the data centers is massive. The resources needed to produce that energy will add a massive burden to the environment. Although big data centers are trying to use as little energy as possible, it’s still going to affect the energy sector as a whole. In addition, the energy and resources used to manufacture hundreds and thousands of new devices is another source of energy consumption caused by IoT.
For environment, IoT is a double sword bringing both benefits and challenges. People should be aware of the both sides so they can weigh the pros and cons thoroughly to benefit the most and sacrifice the least. Some experts suggest that for such a giant network as IoT, the best approach to address the environmental impact is a design-for-the-environment approach. Taking environmental impact from the beginning to integrate it with IoT development as a system will be the best we can do for future generations.
At Advanced MP Technology, we are fully aware of the environmental impact of products we buy and sell on a daily basis. Certified with ISO 14001 and complying with RoHS and REACH, we make sure that we manage the product in a proper way to minimize the environmental impact.