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How IoT, AI, and Big Data Can Help Save the Planet

The IoT, AI, and big data hold great potential to help humanity move toward a more sustainable future, mitigating the effects of climate change

January 27, 2020

6 mins read

We all know how the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and big data help reshape industries and lift businesses to a new level. Now it’s time to think of ways they can contribute to developing more sustainable environmental solutions. Leveraging these groundbreaking technologies can help us use natural resources more efficiently, reduce our carbon footprint, advance agricultural practices, and protect wildlife. Read on to learn how we can take advantage of IoT, AI, and big data in boosting our efforts to save the earth.

Using IoT and AI to improve renewable energy technologies

Since all major means of generating electricity have a tremendous impact on the quality of water, air, and soil, our primary task should be to produce cleaner electricity and consume it more efficiently. If we aim to prevent drastic climate change, we have to switch to renewable energy sources: geothermal, solar, and wind.

One thing we can do is leverage IoT and AI to produce clean energy. Namely, these technologies can help us achieve:

  • Energy production using renewable resources
  • Energy efficiency
  • Efficient combined heat and power generation

Here are some examples of how we can apply IoT and AI technologies.

Smart grids to reduce our carbon footprint

Even though the percentage of power generated by renewable resources is growing in the US, most energy is still generated using coal and fossil fuels.

Total electric power quarterly in USA
How IoT, AI, and Big Data Can Help Save the Planet
Source: Eia

This is why we should be looking for the best ways to reduce our carbon footprint while generating electricity. Using smart grids is one solution.

Smart grids differ from regular electrical grids in their use of sensors and smart appliances to control the production and distribution of electricity. They can help energy providers better understand power usage and quickly make necessary adjustments. At the same time, smart grids provide consumers with data-based suggestions for using electricity smarter.

Smart grids can change the way electricity is produced and distributed by reducing the amount of electricity wasted during transmission. If we manage to apply IoT and AI appropriately, it will also help us improve the energy delivery process, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and make real-time adjustments for efficiency.

[AI] will continuously collect and synthesize overwhelming amounts of data from millions of smart sensors nationwide to make timely decisions on how to best allocate energy resources. Additionally, the advances made from ‘deep learning’ algorithms, a system where machines learn on their own from spotting patterns and anomalies in large data sets, will revolutionize both the demand and supply side of the energy economy.

Franklin Wolfe, Harvard University

There are currently more than 50 million smart meters installed across the US. Although they’re helping people reduce electricity usage, it’s still not enough to reach the desired energy-saving goals. We need real-time energy consumption data. And that’s where IoT comes into play.

Smart meters to change our energy habits

According to a study by the University of California Davis, customers can cut energy use by 11–14% when they get real-time pricing alerts.

People usually have meters that show them how many kilowatt-hours of electricity they use per month, so it’s not hard to calculate how much you’ll spend on electricity even before the bill comes. But what if you could have an in-home display that would show you how much energy you’re using every single minute, and, what’s more, how much you’re paying for that? Perhaps that would make you consider unplugging some appliances or switching off unnecessary lights to save some money (and resources).

Using AI, IoT, and big data can help people change their power consumption habits. If more people get used to paying attention to the cost of electricity and reducing its consumption, we’re sure to consume (and, hence, produce) less of it.

Leveraging IoT and data for cleaner air

When it comes to air pollution, the statistics are terrifying. According to a report by the WHO, 97% of cities in developing countries aren’t even close to meeting air quality guidelines. This is something we can’t ignore. Air pollution is responsible for a large carbon footprint and various respiratory diseases.

With the help of IoT and AI, we can create tools to dynamically monitor pollution, identify its sources, and prevent hazardous situations. For instance, smart sensors can notify employees about poor air quality levels and alert them about technical problems like gas leaks.

Another way IoT and AI can help the planet is by helping us reduce vehicle emissions. Let’s not forget that the transportation sector is responsible for 14% of greenhouse emissions.

How IoT, AI, and Big Data Can Help Save the Planet

In the future, manufacturers of autonomous cars will use IoT and AI to make them more fuel-efficient. Some cities have already started taking advantage of AI to manage traffic lights and better control traffic flows. For instance, Surtrac smart traffic light software has helped to reduce travel times by 25%, braking by 30%, and idling by 40%.

Applying IoT and AI for agricultural sustainability

As the world’s population continues to grow by an average of 82 million people per year and climate change worsens (18 out of the 19 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001), it becomes harder to grow food without using pesticides and polluting the environment.

But we can use IoT devices to monitor crops and increase yields. Farmers will be able to use historical data to predict weather conditions more accurately for their specific microclimates and get suggestions on how to grow crops better.

AI and IoT will change the way agricultural methods work. Microsoft’s Airband Initiative and the FarmBeats program are helping farmers make more environmentally sustainable decisions.

The Airband Initiative provides rural communities in Colombia, India, Kenya, South Africa, and the US with affordable high-speed internet to help them stay connected. FarmBeats provides low-cost drones and smart sensors that gather data to give farmers real-time updates about their crops’ hydration, nutrition, and health. This helps them spot anomalies and resolve them quickly.

Once agricultural workers have access to data that shows them the best irrigation cycles and which crops have a higher nutritional value, they’ll start using fewer pesticides.

Data-driven technologies to help protect wildlife

Sadly, more species are going extinct every year. It’s a horrifying problem for the biodiversity of our planet. Data-driven technologies like IoT and AI can help us study animals’ behavioral patterns and monitor animals without disrupting them.

Rhino poaching in South Africa has increased from 13 rhinos poached in 2007 to 1,004 poached in 2013. If we do nothing, the number of rhinos will plummet to zero. Some governments have already started to protect endangered wildlife with the help of IoT and AI.

How IoT, AI, and Big Data Can Help Save the Planet
Source: Allerin

With the right data, our chances of saving wildlife are higher. A combination of advanced visualization techniques and AI can help us spot animals in photos and study their movements.

IoT approaches that can help us protect endangered species include using sensor-equipped collars to monitor the behaviors and movements of animals and recognize the types of threats they’re facing. They can also be as well as using X to track people (potentially poachers) who enter a protected perimeter.

Final thoughts

Thanks to IoT, AI, and data science, we can understand how to use renewable energy resources to reduce greenhouse emissions and slow climate change. AI and IoT can also help farmers apply more sustainable agricultural methods to grow more crops without endangering the environment. Apart from that, these technologies can contribute to stopping poaching and protecting wildlife. Big data, IoT, and AI have become valuable tools we should strongly consider if we’re serious about saving the planet and improving our quality of life.

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