The Internet of Things Is Leading the Way to a More Sustainable Future

October 14, 2020 - 8 minutes read

The Internet of Things (IoT) is all about optimizing business and internal processes in the short-term. But IoT is a great technology for longer-term goals too: machine maintenance over repair, catching small but possibly impactful anomalies, and even sustainability on planet Earth.

IoT is poised to solve many of the 17 goals that the New York City-based United Nations (UN) set out for completion by 2030. Some of these include smart agriculture driving down food prices and helping solve world hunger, clean water in developing nations, and affordable green energy.

Meeting even one of these goals with IoT will change the world and reduce the suffering of many people around the globe. With that said, let’s take a look at how IoT is helping improve water access, fix hunger, and solve renewable energy issues around the world.

Improving Water and Sanitation

According to The Water Project, 783 million people (that’s one out of every nine) lack access to clean and safe drinking water. More than half of the global population doesn’t have safely-managed sanitation access. 3 billion people lack basic handwashing set-ups in their homes, which has been a major issue during the pandemic.

Although there have been billions of dollars poured into this issue, and many clean water filtration systems have been installed, 65% of newly-installed water systems have been reported to break within the first two years in service. Because water filtration systems require proper oversight for maintaining and preserving the infrastructure, these systems will get broken once and left around for years in communities that need them the most. IoT can bridge the gap here: it can monitor newly-installed water systems around the clock to ensure clean water is still being supplied. And if there’s a problem, IoT can alert an engineer or nearby qualified crew to check it out and fix it.

Researchers at the University of Oxford are working on water conservation and metering in East and West Africa. They’ve found that they can install accelerometer sensors into hand pumps to get an accurate reading of how much water is being produced and if the pump is working. Around the world, other researchers are using the accelerometer data, which is transferred through a GSM network to a central data server. The data is being used to determine how much water is beneath the pump in the well, creating an accurate way to predict when the pump might actually stop working so that a repair can be made before anything irreversible occurs.

IoT sensors can track almost anything we need to know about water and water usage before it becomes a problem: water distribution from party to party, water quality, pipe pressure to find leaks, and more. In sanitation, sensors are a huge asset, especially for measuring the real-time amount of waste in a pit or sanitation tank for emptying.

Ending World Hunger

World hunger is a major issue that affects many people and children in developing regions of the world. Food security is scarce for those in rural areas of third-world countries, and many children die of starvation every day. Nutrition is another major need that requires technological advancement. During the pandemic, these three facets of food have only grown worse. The World Food Programme cautioned that a “hunger pandemic” was at risk of occurring due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions placed upon poorer regions of the world, like Latin America.

Global farming is quickly running out of land to feed more mouths. The UN is asking farmers to engage in more sustainable agriculture to produce higher-quality food in larger quantities over the upcoming decade. IoT is one of the only technologies that can elevate farming into smart farming, tracking and optimizing almost every part of the food-growing process, from seed to shipping.

There are two major ways that IoT applications improve farming. Firstly, precision farming will utilize sensors to control and monitor crops, weather, and water supply by enabling farmers to make the changes themselves. Secondly, automation and data generated from IoT systems will create more connected farms that will empower farmers to do more with less. Efficiency and automation will drive down food prices while improving food quality and nutrition around the world.

Affordable Renewable Energy

Renewable energy used to be incredibly expensive and cumbersome, but the costs of clean energy have been steadily decreasing over the past decade. Now, in many places around the world, solar energy is cheaper than coal. Around 840 million people are living without electricity, which is down from 1 billion in 2016 but is still a staggering number. And renewable energy only contributes to 17% of the global energy grid. With IoT, we can bring energy to millions of people suffering around the world.

IoT in green energy, similar to smart farming, monitors the energy creation process from the rays of the sun to the charging of batteries. It utilizes sensors to track power production and consumption, control every step of the energy flow, and improve visibility into the processes. Companies can access real-time energy data and transmit it to the power grid for improved analysis and advanced storage. Users can adjust their energy usage accordingly, and companies can build optimization strategies around the data they’re generating.

In clean energy, automation is important to detect favorable conditions, change turbines and panels, improve power output, and reduce operational costs. It can also improve worker safety. The maintenance of renewable energy systems is also greatly improving with IoT technology. For example, sensors generate, transmit, and distribute data for remote asset monitoring and management. Load management is improved with predictive analytics watching overload switching, voltage control, and network configurations.

A Future to Look Forward to

The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately undermined much of the progress being made in the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Since these goals were intended for completion by 2030, it’s imperative that we make faster progress after the virus is eradicated. For much of the global population, the pandemic only made their hunger, water, and energy issues worse. Using low-cost sensors and mobile technology, we can utilize IoT for the good of humanity.

We hope you enjoyed this look into how IoT is improving the basic needs of people around the world. Are there any other IoT applications we missed that are making a large impact like those we mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!

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