Can IoT devices help to reduce world energy and CO2 production?

28-04-2021 | By Sam Brown

A recent report by Sustainability in New and Emerging Technologies stated that IoT solutions would help to reduce electrical consumption by 1.6PWh and reduce global CO2 emissions by 1GT. How does technology normally contribute to energy usage, what else does the report specify, and could it be right?

How Technology Typically Affects Consumption

Except for a few technological developments, most improvements to technology result in increased production and consumption. The development of the plough allowed farmers to increase crop yields. The development of the internal combustion engine allowed goods to be shifted faster, and the development of the computer has significantly increased productivity.

Whenever such technologies are introduced, the amount of energy consumed by humanity increases. This can be clearly seen by data showing CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution and total energy production. This is not to say that the recent reduction in CO2 levels implies that technology has stagnated as new forms of energy are being explored (renewable, etc.), but since electricity was not common before the 1900s, CO2 emissions are a good indication of total energy production (via heat).

This trend should tell us that the rise of IoT devices and their deployment into almost all applications will increase energy usage and, therefore, CO2 emissions. However, a recent report by Sustainability in New and Emerging Technologies suggests the complete opposite; that energy usage will be reduced.

What does the report specifically mention?

The new report outlines multiple predictions caused by IoT devices and the energy savings they will enable. By 2030, the first estimation is that the use of IoT solutions will help reduce global energy consumption by 1.6PWh which is enough energy to power over 130 million homes. IoT devices will help reduce the net usage of fossil fuels used by vehicles by 3.5PWh. 

Furthermore, the report states that the use of IoT devices will help reduce overall water consumption by 230 billion cubic meters of water. The total CO2 emissions saved as a result of IoT devices will be 1 gigaton.

Is the report correct?

It cannot be said for sure if the report is correct as it is hard to predict the future. However, basic reasoning would suggest that IoT devices will definitely help to reduce global energy and water consumption as a result of smart systems. This will, therefore, reduce the total amount of CO2 emissions, but this will come at the cost of increased e-waste.

Firstly, the report claims that energy will be reduced by 1.6PWh, which could be achieved using smart IoT systems that can intelligently shut electrical systems down when not in use. 1.6PWh compared to an estimated 25 billion devices suggests that each IoT device is saving 80KWh of energy. Still, the truth is that such energy savings will come from a handful of IoT devices utilised in national grid networks. Furthermore, the use of intelligent home heating systems will also help to contribute to such energy savings.

Secondly, the use of IoT devices will undoubtedly help to reduce global water usage. From smart farms that can provide targeted watering to home systems that can water plants intelligently, IoT devices in water deployment to conserve water. It is hard to estimate if the 230 billion figure is correct, but the current global water usage is 4,300km3, putting the IoT saving at 5%. 

Thirdly, the report claims that IoT devices will help reduce the amount of fuel used in vehicles. While the specific figure provided is hard to calculate, IoT devices can conserve fuel. If properly deployed in cities, IoT devices can monitor traffic and make changes to traffic control systems to minimise the overall amount of fuel consumed by traffic.

Overall, the report presents figures that appear to be logical estimates, and the ability for IoT devices to save energy and water has been well proven in the past. The saving of energy will help reduce CO2 levels, the saving of water will help reduce energy usage and better conserve water, and the improvements in traffic and driving by IoT will also help reduce the overall amount of fuel consumed by drivers.

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By Sam Brown