The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a logical extension of the existing Internet. It is a rapidly expanding global infrastructure of embedded sensors and actuators in residential, commercial and scientific equipment. As these billions of devices and their communication protocols become standardized, their ubiquity and ability to efficiently integrate with existing Internet resources will soar.
Harvesting, collating and analyzing IoT data will provide invaluable insights into global environmental conditions and enable governments, businesses and individuals to monitor and better utilize our planet’s limited resources with the potential for so many other applications.
Utility and Urban Applications
IoT enables businesses and governments to better manage how resources such as energy and water are being utilized. Sensors installed in transfer pipes from water reservoirs can reduce water waste by up to 30 percent by detecting leakage in transit pipes. IoT will help energy producers monitor grid usage and optimize the use of renewable energy sites while deferring the use of fossil fuel backup plants. By 2020, IoT use in the energy sector could easily reduce CO2 emissions by more than nine gigatons.
IoT-enabled smart cities will optimize energy usage of street lighting by a combination of environmental sensors and dimmable lighting technology. They can also reduce vehicle fuel consumption within their boundaries via sensors and actuators by automatically adjusting traffic light timings to reduce congestion in real-time.
Residential and Commercial Applications
Potential energy savings enabled by IoT smart appliances and lighting are enormous. Remote control of “smart thermostats” allows homeowners to manually adjust zone temperatures and plan for situations such as when the kids or parents arrive home later than usual. Internet-enabled thermostats and security systems, like those from Nest and ADT Security, quickly adapt to the daily living habits of a building’s occupants, offering convenience as well as the capacity to tighten down on energy usage. Linking household objects with the IoT allows consumers to gain a direct knowledge of their energy data, encouraging (hopefully) more environmentally-responsible actions.
Buildings’ energy use for lighting can be optimized with the use of interconnected lighting systems, blinds, smart windows, motion detectors and outdoor environmental sensors. Together, these devices can adjust a building’s energy use in accordance to occupant usage, solar and outdoor weather conditions.
Small, cheap IoT temperature monitors coupled with low-energy, narrow-band connectivity technology, such as that offered by NWave Technologies, can find a building’s cold or hot spots that could be eliminated via passive energy-saving materials such as insulation or sealants or adjustments to zone HVAC systems. A similar network of moisture sensors is already in use that saves significant amounts of water for agriculture irrigation.
Global Environmental Monitoring
Currently, monitoring of the Earth’s climate is hampered by disparate, non-standard monitoring devices and networks. As these are replaced by standardized, less expensive IoT devices, a greater number of sensor networks will produce Internet-accessible data streams from remote locations to environmental scientists. The real-time, mapped data coming from these environmental monitoring stations will be easily integrated with other web resources, which will produce a more accurate picture of global climate changes.
For instance, IoT devices could significantly improve measurements of increases in CO2 and methane emissions from melting permafrost. Large scale sensors networks could advance detection of environmental hazards as well such as droughts, hurricanes, volcanic activity, tsunamis, dust storms and fires.
IoT-based energy-saving applications in homes, businesses, energy producers and governments promise dramatic energy and water savings. Initially, these improvements will derive mainly from process optimizations. As IoT penetration increases, its environmental applications are likely to produce an eye-opening jolt to our shared perceptions about how our everyday behaviors affect the planet’s sustainability. Such increased awareness is essential in order to bring about more fundamental changes with regard to how we shepherd Earth’s limited resources.