The Climate Plan and the Internet of Things

By Walter Knitl – CEO at Praxiem

The Canadian government announced the Climate Plan with the objective “to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, grow the economy, and build resilience to a changing climate”.  This is a significant proclamation and a step up from previous attempts. But, of course, only time will tell how well it succeeds.

The success will depend on many interconnected factors, including collaboration between society, industry, government, and academia, not to mention dealing with international economic and political stresses and an amenable civic mindset.

Success will also depend on technology innovations and applications, including digital technologies. However, it’s not about having siloed technological innovation or application, but how they are applied in systemic ways to address the multifaceted climate change problem of the physical world around us. What’s needed is a new paradigm that brings them together to create value.

Fortunately, the Internet of Things (IoT) is one such digital paradigm that straddles into the physical world. If appropriately applied, it will significantly contribute to the Climate Plan’s success – notwithstanding the critical other factors noted above.

Step in – the Internet of Things

Despite the mythical notion that the Internet of Things allows fridges to talk to stoves, IoT is much broader than that and not any single technology, economic sector, or use case. It is a paradigm with connected physical devices at its inception but extended to envelope much of the overall digital realm. When we talk about IoT, we are also talking about digital. The IoT space encompasses architectural components such as devices, communication networks such as 5G, and cloud; vertical digital solutions such as connected transportation, smart buildings, and wearables; and various domains or disciplines such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, privacy, and others.

So why should we care about IoT?  In a nutshell, IoT has made its way into every corner of the global economy and is increasingly impacting our work and lives, and compels new digital governance.  It has also effectively become a mindset on building the world around us and relating to it.

IoT will have a significant role in the Circular Economy, which significantly overlaps with the Climate Plan’s objectives. The Circular Economy objectives are to reduce or eliminate the draw of new resources from the environment and discarding waste by recirculating materials and products into new products through MAKE-USE-RECOUP cycles. It’s a cradle-to-cradle approach, compared to the cradle-to-grave model of the current Linear Economy.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise IoT has a significant role play in the Climate Plan, including in each of the following key areas identified in the Plan..

Clean Electricity

Clean electricity comes in many forms – from new renewables such as solar, wind, and biomass and more efficiently produced legacy sources like hydro, nuclear, and the tail end of fossil fuels. The common denominator is the Smart Grid for electricity distribution.  Here, IoT has an essential role in electricity generation automation, whether sensing wind direction or solar intensity or automating bioreactors.  Further, it has a vital role in coordinating electricity generation onramps to the Smart Grid and the offramps for consumption. That includes commercial electricity generation and prosumer business and residential participation with private solar panels, wind turbines, or excess energy stored in on-site batteries or electric vehicles.

Clean Transportation

Using renewable energy for powering vehicles or the transport infrastructure is undoubtedly very important in achieving clean transportation. So is the efficient use of vehicles and the infrastructure – and that’s where IoT shines. For example, autonomous vehicles (which, by the way, are IoT systems on wheels themselves) provide an opportunity to reduce energy through automated convoys enabled by sensors and machine-to-machine communication. IoT also steps in to help coordinate between electric vehicles and the availability of charging stations or parking spaces. This reduces the energy consumption needed to hunt for a place to park or recharge. IoT also aids in traffic management by sensing traffic volumes and speed, then varying traffic signals, whether visually to humans or electronically to vehicles, reducing idle times, and therefore overall energy.

Clean Industry

IoT is, without doubt, one of the main pillars of Industry 4.0 and its underlying cyber-physical and automation systems. Consequently, it enables higher-scale and more efficient production and plays a crucial role in the drive to Clean Industry.  For example, IoT’s sensing, analytics, and control aspects minimize the energy used in production, reduce waste, increase recycling, and monitor environmental (air, water, soil) quality surrounding manufacturing sites. Also, IoT is central to the Digital Twin paradigm, which aids maintenance and repair of equipment and products. It involves tracking product or equipment health and predetermining their maintenance or removal from use, resulting in lower effort and energy by pre-emptive action compared to post-fault reactive repair. It also extends product life, reducing the need for new materials.

Clean Industry also means having efficient supply chains and logistics, where IoT also plays an important role through parameter sensing and location connectivity. That includes tracking containers of materials and parts on the supply side, finished goods delivery, or placement within stores, resulting in less stranded or spoiled products and materials. Efficiency, just-in-time operation, and diminished waste mean reduced energy consumption.

Homes and Buildings

Novel construction and materials play an important role in delivering clean net-zero buildings, but equally important is their efficient operation.  IoT plays several pivotal roles, including achieving the best energy efficiency by managing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning to be delivered where and when needed in the building or home, personalized to the people occupying rooms or spaces.  IoT also optimizes and coordinates energy exchanges between the public smart grid and any privately owned energy sources such as solar panels, heat pumps, and battery storage.

Climate-smart Agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture compels precision agriculture where resources used in operation, including water, fertilizer, pesticides, feed, energy, or others, are applied precisely when and where needed to individual spaces, animals, or plants. IoT plays a significant role here by sensing various parameters such as soil moisture, cow body temperatures, air temperature, animal location and feed consumption, then analyzing and prescribing exact amounts of resources to be applied.  That reduces the resources needed and their transport, correspondingly reducing the needed energy.  Additionally, IoT enables greater local food production through precise automation and greenhouse environment control, correspondingly reducing the energy needed for long-distance trucking between consumers and continental growing regions.

Reducing Waste

A key aspect of reducing waste is clearly using less. Using products and materials wisely involving collecting, recycling, and sharing is also very important.

IoT enables collecting and recycling used products and materials by sensing their availability and location, such as the fill status of recycling or waste collection bins and depots. The result is less stranded material, earlier return into circulation, and reduced effort and energy used in the collection process.

IoT also enables the sharing economy that allows sharing products such as equipment and appliances among users through its ability to sense product availability, location, and per-user usage. This reduces the amount of product and material in circulation within the technosphere and correspondingly reduces the energy needed for new product manufacturing.

Smart Cities and Communities

A city is a system of systems, whether infrastructure, technological, social, or commercial.  A smart city relies on smart systems enabled by IoT (some noted above) such as connected smart transportation, electricity smart grids, utilities and waste management, public space maintenance and management, and others. They already individually benefit from IoT, but they create increased opportunities for climate change mitigation when they are systemically combined.

Greening Government

As with any enterprise, IoT has a role in greening government through smart building operation, connected transportation and logistics, and other IoT-assisted measures that reduce GHG-emitting energy.  Also, IoT plays a role in environmental monitoring to measure the Climate Plan’s overall progress and monitor compliance with environmental and other types of regulations.

Natural Climate Solutions

Perhaps contrary to initial thought, even natural climate solutions have a role for technology, including IoT.  IoT has a substantial role in monitoring the progress of natural climate solutions such as sensing environmental conditions (water, soil, air), or wildlife or marine presence and movement, or monitoring human interference or encroachment on protected habitats.  Also, IoT can play an active part in setting up or initiating natural solutions such as automated tree seeding by drones (which are IoT devices themselves).

Systemic Thinking and Governance

Executing and achieving the Climate Plan objectives will compel new systemic ways of thinking about technologies, business cycles, and governance (digital and social).

A systemic approach and thinking are needed in the technology and business realm to ensure multiple cradle-to-cradle product/material cycles. This will necessarily need to incorporate the Internet of Things, which, as we saw above, is engrained in various economic sectors and correspondingly the Climate Plan. Industry will need to innovate to design-in Climate Plan objectives into products and services from the start, with increased reliance on collaborative innovation techniques such as Design Thinking.

The Climate Plan is a paradigm shift, and paradigm shifts have resulted in new governance models, too-often being reactive rather than coactive. The Climate Plan is no different and will compel a systemic governance approach as it cuts across socio-economic apparent “silos”.  With the Internet of Things playing a crucial part in the Climate Plan as described above, corresponding coactive digital governance innovation, which includes IoT, is needed. This, in turn, requires digital literacy around IoT by policymakers for the most effective and timely policies underpinning the Climate Plan. Additionally, collaborative innovation techniques (such as Design Thinking) will be needed to innovate and deliver systemic digital governance.

State of IoT

The Internet of Things is a globally accepted paradigm, achieving penetration in all parts of national and global economies, changing the way we live and work.  While Canada is a home of great technological innovation, it has a meager relationship with IoT.  Our leverage of IoT as an overarching paradigm for economic gain is still rising, and consequently, so is digital governance around it.  With the Climate Plan proclamation, it’s even more imperative we step up and tightly embrace IoT, as the plan’s success depends on it in no small measure.

With this in mind, there are several places to turn to ramp up on IoT.

Digital Literacy around IoT is equally important for policymakers as for business leaders. Digital Literacy through the Internet of Things and Design Thinking training is available to quickly ramp policymakers to a level of technological intuition needed to develop policies involving IoT.  Not just for the Climate Plan, but also other areas such as transportation, health, smart cities, next-gen manufacturing, and others.

Additionally, IoT North provides a virtual platform for Canada’s Internet of Things Conversation, such as through ThingkFest.  A ThingkFest event offers an opportunity for Canada’s IoT providers, users, innovators, and thinkers to cross-pollinate by presenting and sharing their involvement in IoT.

Also, AIoT Canada, a non-profit organization, supports its members’ growth, competitiveness, and influence, locally and internationally, in the rapidly evolving Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence (AI) space. They provide a place and a focal point for businesses and organizations in the Canadian IoT and AI ecosystem to connect, interact, and learn to mutually accelerate collaborative ideation, development, and implementation of technological solutions.

In addition, the Alberta IoT Association is a nonprofit consisting of organizations with a vested interest in the success of the Internet of Things in the province of Alberta. Their mission is to position Alberta as the worldwide center of excellence for the Internet of Things technology.

Everything and every Thing is connected

Hopefully, with the announcement of the Climate Plan, we have crossed the Rubicon into new territory. A territory where retarding Climate Change and economic growth based on sustainability go hand in hand. However, this will require systemic and multidisciplinary approaches interconnecting different technologies, industry and societal sectors, and governments. The Climate Plan compels the cultivation of a new civic mindset, not just attuned to our individual and economic needs but also the planet’s health and future.

That also includes leveraging the Internet of Things in the Climate Plan execution and policies around it. As the Climate Plan addresses the malaise of the physical world around us, and the Internet of Things interconnects Things representing the physical world around us, there is an inescapable synergy and interplay between the Plan and IoT.

Everything and every Thing is connected!

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