COP 27 (or the 27th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is underway at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this week. Leaders and experts are meeting to brainstorm on how to tackle climate change and make our planet sustainable. Poverty, climate change, and food security are the top long-term concerns today. The challenge of sustainable development facing the world today requires unique solutions and technology is sure to play an important and positive role.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is having a profound impact on the way we live and the way we consume. Increasingly, it is becoming a key enabler in sustainable development, both from the consumer as well as industrial perspective. IoT can help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
Sustainable Development Goals
The 2030 agenda for sustainable development was adopted by all UN members in 2015. It provides a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries, whether developed or developing, in a global partnership.
IoT can play a role in achieving almost all the 17 goals but below are some of the goals where its impact is going to be significant:
Zero hunger (SDG 2)
There are over 7 billion people who call this planet their home. According to a WFP report, an estimated 768 million people were chronically hungry in 2020 which increased to 828 million in 2022. To achieve the goal of zero hunger, there is a need to increase farm productivity, reduce food waste and improve food storage and distribution.
Smart farming enables farmers to reduce waste and increase productivity. Sensors can be used to monitor weather, soil, and crop condition in real time. Monitoring alone can save billions of gallons of water and gigawatts of electricity by reducing waste and yet increasing farm productivity. Agrisource Data, an Africa-based start-up leveraging IoT and AI for farm analytics claims to have saved 772 million liters of water in the last six years and increase the average yield by around 9%.
Storage and transportation wastages can be greatly reduced by monitoring the environment to ensure optimal temperature and humidity levels. Real-time information helps take corrective action, leading to lower food wastage. Another area where IoT is playing a role is livestock monitoring, enabling farm owners to monitor the well-being of their cattle and reduce the spread of diseases.
Good health and well-being (SDG 3)
The world’s population is aging and the elderly’s well-being is a concern. According to the World Bank, nearly 10% of the world’s population is aged above 65. In many developed countries, it is already at 20%. In such a scenario, it is imperative that the care shifts from hospitals to homes. This is where connected health using IoT is coming to the rescue to provide quality care from the comfort of home. IoT devices are making independent senior living safer with motion sensors and fall detection and panic buttons helping caregivers monitor the elderly remotely.
Air pollution is a key concern for well-being. To take meaningful and timely action, it is important to measure the air quality at a hyper-local level, which is an expensive proposition. Installing air quality monitoring IoT sensors on vehicles is another way of collecting hyper-local pollution data. Vehicles such as bin lorries, buses, and council vehicles regularly drive throughout most urban and residential areas. Installing IoT air quality sensors on cars along with GPS systems is another way to collect the data without having to invest in hundreds of sensors in fixed locations. Manxtechgroup (MTG) has trialed mobile hyper-local air quality monitoring technology in the Isle of Man, delivering hyper-local measurements in a cost-effective manner.
Wearables, smartwatches in particular, are motivating people to stay healthy. Studies have shown that in the following 13 weeks after a smartwatch purchase, people’s step count increases by an average of 2,000.
Clean water and sanitation (SDG 6)
According to UNICEF and WHO, one in three people globally does not have access to safe drinking water and unsafe water is responsible for 1.2 million deaths every year. IoT can substantially help achieve the clean water objective by reducing water wastage, monitoring water quality, and providing running water through innovative solutions. eWATER is a water operator in sub-Saharan Africa. Combining mobile money, IoT, and Near Field Communication (NFC) technologies, eWATER claims to manage the provision of clean, low-cost water, which is accessible 24/7.
Vodafone UK has partnered with SES Water to develop an NB-IoT-based system to save water lost to leaks. About 23% of the water that runs through underground pipes is lost to leakage, and the project’s short-term aim is to reduce this by 15% in five years, and more than halve it by 2045
For sanitation, IoT-powered smart solutions focus on bringing efficiency in waste collection and management. Route optimization of the waste collection can not only reduce fuel consumption but can also help clear up the waste dumpsters faster.
Affordable and clean energy (SDG 7)
Pollution levels are rising across the world and energy is a big source of pollution. Efforts are being made to produce clean energy at an affordable price.
The reliability of renewable energy has been a concern for some. Moreover, the cost of production of green energy has been on the higher side. Combinations of IoT, AI, and ML technologies are helping improve reliability and reduce operational costs. The development of smart grids has been a boon for renewable energy as it improves the reliability of the energy supply by integrating renewable energy with traditional energy sources.
In 2015, the Isles of Scilly (UK) partnered with Hitachi to reduce the island’s reliance on fossil fuels and cut electricity bills by 40%. To meet the goals, the island council installed 400 kW of solar panels on administrative and residential buildings and deployed Hitachi’s IoT platform to distribute the electricity harvested from renewable sources and monitor carbon emissions.
Maintenance of field equipment like wind turbines is expensive and time-consuming. IoT devices capture data and relay it to the cloud, where AI algorithms compare real-time sensor readings with historical data and assess whether the equipment is functioning properly. Power plant personnel and field technicians access the data remotely to determine if repairs are needed. This way, operations cost can be lowered by moving to prescriptive maintenance. Advanced IoT systems may also incorporate edge IoT devices that have enough computing power to locally process sensor data and control the machines without human interference.
The use of smart energy meters enables the collection of real-time consumption data. By using analytics and data processing solutions, electricity suppliers can spot trends and patterns related to peak load conditions. By 2024, 77% of EU households will have smart electric meters. India plans to install 250 million smart meters by 2025. The smart meter will not only bring benefits like accurate billing to consumers but also help the planners use real-time data and analytics.
Industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9)
Creating resilient and sustainable infrastructure and industry, and also promoting innovation, are among the key goals for 2030. From the beginning, key use cases of IoT have been focused on industry and infrastructure. No wonder, an estimated 35-40% of IoT projects currently involve industry or infrastructure. There are innumerable ways in which IoT can help achieve this objective. For instance, in the automotive industry, IoT could enable preventive maintenance, improve navigation, prevent collisions, and enable various levels of vehicle autonomy and other interesting services. In factories, connected operations can lift productivity, lower energy consumption, and reduce costs. US-based start-up Arch Systems provides connected systems for data collection. The systems use sensors to collect factory data in real-time, thus providing detailed metrics to enable manufacturing optimization. The systems extract actionable insights from this data as well as facilitate predictive maintenance. This helps factories move from preventive to predictive maintenance, improving uptime.
Sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11)
The world is becoming increasingly urbanized. Over 60% of the world’s population is projected to live in cities by 2030. Rapid urbanization is underway in emerging economies like India, China, and Indonesia. The cities account for 70% of the carbon emission. Clearly, sustainable cities are needed to fight off the threat of climate change. IoT not only supports sustainable cities but also aligns services and facilities with the citizens’ needs.
IoT and other digital transformation technologies can be embedded across the city infrastructure. Smart traffic signals can respond to different traffic conditions, saving time and fuel as well as relieving congestion. Connected smart bins can alert the authorities when the bin is full so the waste collection can move from a pre-decided itinerary to a need-based frequency. Security camera networks can make cities safer. Reducing fossil fuel consumption is another important step towards a sustainable and cleaner environment. Europe has taken the lead in installing connected charging stations, which has led to a steeper adoption of electric vehicles.
An example of a sustainable city is Peachtree Corners, 20 miles north of Atlanta. The city has smart buildings, connected highways, sensors, cameras, and other smart devices. Bosch is testing its intelligent video analytics with machine learning capabilities on the roads in Peachtree Corners, covering a connected intersection, driverless vehicles, teleoperated scooters, and autonomous package delivery. Singapore has taken the smart city concept to the next level. Recently, Singapore completed work on the world’s first digital twin of an entire nation. Bentley Systems tools accelerated the process of transforming raw GIS, LiDAR, and imagery data into reality mesh, building, and transportation models of the country.
Sustainability need not be at odds with development and industry. The use of technology and the right intent can help us achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. IoT, undoubtedly one of the largest enablers of digital transformation, has the potential to be the game changer for sustainability. To increase the industry’s awareness of this, the World Economic Forum (WEF) came up with a set of guidelines in 2018 for IoT’s role in providing a sustainable future. We sincerely hope that the world overachieves the sustainability goals for the sake of our future.