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How mobile phones and IoT can help reduce emissions

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The internet of things and mobile connectivity may not seem at first the obvious go-to solution for reducing carbon emissions to mitigate climate change.

That dubious award goes to culprits such as reducing dependency on coal power stations, the oil industry and its takers, petrol and diesel transport.

But mobile phone and IoT companies, and their related products, do have a role to play, says GSMA, an international body that represents more than 750 operators encapsulated by 400 companies in the global mobile ecosystem.

A 2020 report released by GSMA outlines trends in the global mobile economy, and amongst 5G and IoT developments is insight into the positive social and environmental impacts of mobile technology.

While the mobile industry has the potential to double its 2019 value of $US1.1 trillion to the global economy to $US2.2 trillion between 2024 and 2034, it is not just financial benefits that bear consideration.

The report predicts that by 2025, augmented reality glasses will be commonplace, 5G will have a huge impact on enterprises and companies, and health wearables will be helping to solve medical problems en masse.

By 2030, it is thought that the world’s first autonomous mobile network will become active as global penetration of mobile tehcnology reaches 90% (from 50% in 2019), and autonomous vehicles will become reality.

But what does mobile technology and the internet of things have in store for the climate and environment?

“While the mobile industry is not the largest contributor of carbon emissions compared to other sectors, it can be an important
part of the solution,” write the authors of the report.

“It can do this in three ways: enabling the global transition towards a zero-carbon economy; improving resilience to the effects of climate change; and reducing emissions and driving energy efficiency.”

Telecommunications companies as with other multinationals are working towards sustainability targets, and through mobile products and services reduction of carbon emissions have increased in some cases by up to 20% .

For example, the GSMA report underlines Spanish telecom company Telefónica’s estimation that for every direct and indirect gram of emissions combined, digitisation had enabled its customers to avoid a further 1.15 grams, while German telco Deutsche Telekom calculated its “positive CO2 effects” were 21% higher than its emissions in 2018.

In a broader context, mobile technology can assist lowering carbon emissions in a wide range of use cases, the report says.

The report identifies traffic management, urban lighting, parking and logistics, building energy management, remote working, the sharing economy, smart grids, connected health and precision agriculture as examples of areas where gains can be made.

Smart traffic management

The use of IoT technology to enable smart traffic management would improve traffic flow, thereby improving air quality and reducing traffic congestion. The report exemplifies Verizon’s use of “smart asphalt” with embedded sensors that allows traffic signals to respond according to commute times and carbon emissions.

Smart urban lighting

Using Iot technology, urban lighting automatically switches off lights when not required, reducing energy costs and emissions. For example, in Guadalajara, Spain, Vodafone reduced street lighting energy consumption by 68%  by connected 13,500 LED lights to a central management system.

Smart parking and logistics

By helping drivers to find a car park, smart parking technology can reduce congestion and emissions. Deutsche Telekom’s Park and Joy app makes finding a park quicker, and as of December 2019 was being used in 100 German cities.

By using mobile connectivity in vehicles, routes and payloads can be optimised for fleets, reducing fuel or electricity consumption and therefore related emissions. For example, AT&T uses fleet management technology to deploy delivery vehicles more efficiently.

Building energy management

Machine-to-machine connectivity – otherwise known as M2M – enables monitoring and automation of building systems such as heating and cooling according to occupancy and ambient temperature. M2M technology can also use predictive methods such as weather forecasts to better respond to occupant needs.

In February, Honeywell launched an autonomous cloud-based, closed-loop, machine learning solution called Forge Energy Optimisation that in a pilot at Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, demonstrated a 10% reduction in a building’s energy consumption.

Remote working

The rise of working from home during the Coronavirus pandemic in itself has demonstrated the gains that can be made by simply not commuting to work. However, for remote working to be effective, virtual collaboration technology and software such as Zoom and Slack are invaluable.

Sharing economy

Why own a car or buy a new appliance when you can share? With mobile apps, sharing of anything from cars to unwanted goods can help reduce emissions by reducing consumption culture. Smartphone apps also provide access to services such as government departments and banks thus also reducing travel and its associated emissions.

Smart grids and electric vehicles

M2M technology will also enable better management of energy resources, while bidirectional charging in electric vehicles will allow them to essentially become “mobile batteries”. One example of where this by French utility provider Engie in collaboration with auto group FCA, in which up to 700 electric vehicles will be trialled as distributed energy resources to help smooth grid peaks and troughs.

Connected health

The Coronavirus pandemic has also seen an increase in telehealth services, thereby reducing travel to medical providers. Also, remote patient monitoring services and prescribed health wearables will also help reduce the need to travel to doctors and hospitals. In 2018 AT&T says it saved 147,023 tonnes of CO2 emissions in this way.

Precision agriculture

By monitoring crops with thermal imaging and other sensors via satellites and drones, pesticides and fertilisers can be targetted where they are needed. Drones can also be used to apply pesticides and fertilisers, or in the case of UAV-IQ, beneficial insects, thereby reducing impact upon the environment even further.


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Bridie Schmidt

Bridie Schmidt specialises in writing about new technology and how it can help solve the problems of carbon emissions and climate change. With a degree in Communications from Macquarie University, and 20 years experience in front end web development, she has freelanced as a web and graphic designer since 2001. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. You can email Bridie at [email protected].

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