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Green IoT for Energy Efficiency and Environmental Sustainability


Key Takeaways

  • The future challenge of IoT is to develop processes and policies that make sustainable use of IoT to reduce the greenhouse effect and carbon emissions, and also further optimise  IoT greenhouse footprint.
  • IoT can be combined with technologies like AI, machine learning, computer vision, cloud computing, nanotechnology and big data to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for a better and fulfilled life.
  • Greening of IoT focuses on manufacturing energy efficient IoT hardware as well as upon green software development, while Greening by IoT involves IoT as an enabler to create a sustainable environment.
  • The green IoT life cycle spans the entire IoT product lifecycle: green design, green production, green deployment and green recycling.
  • Green RFID, Green Wireless sensing networks, Green M2M, Green Data center and Green Cloud Computing are key enablers of green IoT.

Human communication originated with the ability to speak and then write. Since then, humans have devised new forms of communications in search of an effective as well as efficient means of communication. The technology has advanced significantly resulting in new inventions like radios, telephones, computers, mobile phones and the internet. Year 1900 marked "The Rise of Connectivity" with the advent of the first wearable computer, internet, mobile phones, machine to machine (M2M) technology heading towards Internet of Things (IoT).

The most radical innovation of the digital age, the internet, has revolutionised communication as well as connectivity. It has opened up the world to us with just a click. The machine-to-machine era has led to connected devices which communicate with each other making our lives convenient. The Internet now resides in everyday things like food packages, furniture, watches, home appliances and many more. The IoT enabled devices offer significant potential for new business models and revenue-generating opportunities via greater efficiencies in energy consumption and other costs.

The urgent need of the moment is development of practices and procedures that prioritises resource conservation and environmental governance while stepping up efforts to decarbonize the atmosphere. Green IoT  (GIoT) represents the energy efficient procedures adopted by IoT  devices to achieve a sustainable and safer world.

Environmental Impact of IoT

It was well predicted by a futurist in 1990 that  "Everything will be connected to everything else". The growth of IoT has resulted in improving connectivity amongst different devices worldwide. It has contributed largely to reducing energy waste by converting normal devices into smart devices, giving them the ability to collect energy data which can then be analysed to boost delivery and efficiency for environmental resilience.

Thus, IoT has resulted in building Smart Technology which promotes environmental sustainability by optimised use of conventional power sources, making reuse of materials, and recycling products; thereby further reducing waste and carbon emission. The sustainable solutions range from smart homes, smart healthcare, smart agriculture, and smart cities, to name a few. The positive impact of the IoT is improving the quality of life while raising environmental sustainability initiatives.

There is also another side of the coin. Billions of IoT devices produce and send a huge amount of data which require significant energy cumulatively as it passes through the network. These devices mostly are operated using batteries. The more frequently batteries need to be replaced, the more batteries end up in landfills. These have propelled issues related to environmental sustainability and challenges to use resources more responsibly and organise processes in ways that reduce waste.

Green IoT

The internet has transformed communication, connectivity, knowledge accessibility, social interactions and digital technologies. Although the energy needed for a single internet search or email is small, the cumulative CO2 emission rises up drastically on global internet usage. Each digital technology results in the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, Ozone, and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which further lead to global warming.

The carbon footprint of electronic gadgets, the internet, and the systems supporting them account for approximately  3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, according to the studies (Why your internet habits are not as clean as you think - BBC Future). In the greenhouse effect, the concentrated gases absorb the energy, thereby increasing the global temperature.

The escalating usage of IoT enabled devices, equipped with additional sensory and communication add-ons, consumes huge amounts of energy and results in carbon emissions. The need of the hour is a methodology that prioritises resource conservation and environmental governance and intensifies efforts to decarbonize the atmosphere. The future challenge of IoT is to develop processes and policies that make sustainable use of IoT to reduce the greenhouse effect and further optimise  IoT greenhouse footprint.

Green IoT (GIoT) represents the energy efficient procedures (hardware and software) adopted by IoT to facilitate reducing energy consumption and carbon emission of existing applications and services, as well as IoT devices to achieve a sustainable smart world.

Several green technologies like green RFID tags, green sensor networks, and green cloud computing networks have become an essential part of Green IoT research. Organisations these days are being motivated to use more natural or renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy. Technologies such as artificial intelligence along with mathematical algorithms are making IoT more intuitive and user-friendly.

Energy and facility management software based on artificial intelligence (AI) are being developed as part of the green IoT movement. IoT uses a lot of sensors and microprocessors. It is adopting nanotechnology to design smaller nano-scale devices for improved functionality, energy efficiency and accuracy whilst reducing in size.

Greener solutions

Different industry verticals use IoT technology to build greener solutions by optimising their operations for greater sustainability and lower energy costs:

  • Energy efficient homes by monitoring appliance usage in homes through affordable circuit-level electricity monitoring, real-time reporting, smart alerts and remote energy controls.

    IoT devices are necessary for keeping costs and energy usage down. The demand for long-range, low-power IoT enabled products with indoor and outdoor tracking capabilities has increased as it facilitates the homeowners to track their energy usage in real-time.
  • Smart lighting, demand-driven heating and cooling for improved comfort in homes as well as in offices, at the same time reducing energy consumption; in addition, energy Star certified thermostats that learn what temperature users prefer and build a schedule around that setting.

    During the pandemic, as more employees worked from home, the overall energy consumption of New York City reduced approximately by 15% (Using IoT technology to help businesses thrive in a pandemic world). This decline is possibly due to the fact that commercial structures consume much more lighting per square foot than personal homes.

    Organisations in any industry can cut down their costs by adopting IoT devices which include smart thermostats, smart lighting and smart outlets to regulate indoor temperatures and remotely control electricity sources for energy saving and making buildings more sustainable.
  • Smart healthcare and alert services for senior citizens to help them to live a safer as well as independent life.

    IoT solutions for the care of elder citizens revolve around health monitoring systems, home security monitoring, and interaction with the caretakers. During Covid 19, the usage of smartphones and Telemedicine services was a significant help for senior citizens. This has resulted in a positive impact as a recent health survey showed that about 60% of the U.S population who are above 65 years of age are now open to using Telehealth services.

    IoT-enabled remote monitoring systems are important towards building preventative healthcare services for the betterment of society. It uses Big Data and Analytics for quicker diagnosis of health issues and also decreases healthcare expenses for hospitals in terms of system costs and for patients in terms of actual visits to hospitals.
  • Smart utility meters and real-time power usage monitoring that collect, store and send data to smartphones to manage energy and water consumption.

    It is cost-effective to manage household water usage with low-power, long-range IoT solutions. Smart sensors share real-time readings through the cloud and automatically shut off in case of a problem.
  • Smart watering of plants for irrigation applications using sensor data analytics.

    Smart irrigation involves the use of low cost IoT devices to create cyber-physical systems that can water plants based on analytics and data collected in real-time. The sensors keep track of different parameters like soil moisture, humidity and temperature, in order to provide the right amount of water to the plants. It supports environmental sustainability by saving upon water as well as manpower with unchanged quality.

    Researchers have applied a hybrid methodology combining agile methods and IoT methods to smart irrigation as a case study. It resulted in reducing total water consumption for irrigation and improving real-time tracking of the condition of the plants and the water level in the reservoir (Smart Irrigation: case study for Hybrid-SIX methodology). Edge computing and machine learning  techniques have also been used along with IoT to predict  watering requirement of plants (Intelligent and Smart Irrigation System Using Edge Computing and IoT).
  • Sensor based smart dustbins which can stop overflow of garbage at public places.

    The waste management can be optimised using an IoT-based approach wherein the sensors continuously monitor the smart bin for its filling level in real-time. The data are stored and processed in an IoT middleware providing information for collection with optimised routes of the waste collection. The mobile app helps the garbage truck drivers in generating optimised routes for waste, and citizens can use the app for disposal control.

    The Indian Government had launched a campaign called "Swachh Bharat Abhiyan" to clean the streets, roads and infrastructure of the 4041 cities of the country. IoT solutions have helped to build sensor-equipped smart bins to sense the level of garbage in the dustbins and generate alerts to the concerned authorities for clearing the trash. Also, the Iot based solution helps in generating efficient garbage truck routes, which helps in energy conservation.
  • IoT connectivity for shared mobility service, shared e-scooters, e-bikes and cars.

    Countries across the globe are supporting integration of global IoT solutions in the micro-mobility sector to reduce traffic congestion and pollution as well as comply with government regulations in real time. IoT-powered GPS trackers and sensors are used in these dockless e-scooters for tracking, availability, and network coverage.

    AI, cloud computing  and computer vision  are being integrated with IoT to develop more climate-friendly and long lasting solutions for sustainable transportation  services. These technologies together can solve the issues of changing regulations, sidewalk detection, and vehicle theft.
  • IoT based Air Panel device, for fresher air, better health and more efficient building ventilation.

    IoT Sensing technology can improve internal air quality and natural ventilation while saving energy and giving better life expectancy. The IoT based system can monitor air quality data and perform real time cloud-based calculations to simultaneously assess and control environmental air quality.

    All the IoT based solutions are hardware and software solutions. The software are generally mobile apps which empower the user in monitoring, control and aid in decision making.

Green IoT lifecycle

Greening IoT refers to the use of cutting-edge ICT technologies that use infrastructure and storage to make the IoT environmentally friendly while allowing subscribers to collect, store, access, and manage various types of information; in order to save energy used for designing, manufacturing, and distributing ICT equipment and devices. Eventually, the emphasis has been towards making IT hardware energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

But, software also plays a crucial role in environment conservation. Algorithms and software being developed are more complex and impact hardware’s energy consumption. Research has shown that the accuracy improvements in training a variety of neural network models for Natural Language Processing (NLP) results in substantial energy consumption (Energy and Policy Considerations for Deep Learning in NLP).

The green IoT life cycle primarily concentrates on green design, green production, green deployment and green disposal or green recycling to have minimum negative impact on the environment.  In order to achieve the sustainability of intelligent everything and a smart world, green IoT entails reducing CO2 emissions and enhancing energy efficiency. It involves designing and leveraging green aspects.

The design components of green IoT include developing energy efficient computing devices, communication protocols, and networking architectures. Green IoT not only involves Green in IoT, but also Green by IoT. Greening in IoT means green design of hardware as well as software products. The green design involves software design which minimises environmental impacts and should be reusable, with minimal computational and memory resource requirements.

The key enabling technologies for GIoT include Green Tags, green sensing networks, Green M2M, Green Data center and Green Cloud Computing.

RFID Tag is one of the promising wireless systems to enable IoT. It is a small microchip wrapped in an adhesive sticker that is connected to a radio for both receiving and transmitting the signal. While passive tags lack inbuilt batteries and must instead harvest energy from the reader signal using the principle of induction, active tags feature batteries that power the signal transmissions and extend the transmission ranges.

RFID plays a significant role in applications that help to promote a greener world by reducing vehicle emissions, conserving energy use in buildings, improving waste disposal, etc.

The tags are difficult to recycle, further making it challenging to recycle the items to which they are attached. Green RFID focuses on reducing the size of RFID tags in order to use less non-biodegradable material in their production. Hitachi has introduced μ-tags that have dimensions of less than 0.4 mm2. Other green initiatives include producing biodegradable RFID tags, printable tags and paper-based RFID tags.

Wireless sensor networks (WSNs), a major enabling technology for the development of the IoT, is a result of the fusion of sensing and wireless communication. It has been proposed for a variety of applications, like object tracking, fire detection, and environmental monitoring.

A WSN usually consists of a certain number of sensor nodes and a base station (BS) (i.e., sink node). The sensor nodes are with low processing, limited power, and storage capacity, while the BS is very powerful. Sensor nodes are equipped with multiple on-board sensors that take readings from the environment like temperature, humidity, acceleration, etc., and then cooperate with each other to deliver the sensory data.

Green WSN for enabling greening IoT focuses on increasing energy efficiency, reducing relay nodes, extending the network lifetime, and improving the system budget. This can be achieved by adopting battery-free wireless solutions where data communication can occur at ultralow power and utilise energy harvesting mechanisms which generate power from the environment (sun, kinetic energy, temperature differentials, etc.).

Eliminating batteries will reduce exposure to the toxic substances within batteries and pave the way for green systems. The sensor nodes can optimally go in a sleep mode when not needed to save energy consumption. Energy awareness must be included into groups of communicating sensor nodes of the entire network as well as into the individual nodes. Research on various energy-efficient techniques for Radio optimization, data reduction and routing is ongoing like transmission power control, cooperative communication, network coding, data aggregation, clustering, etc.

In cloud computing, resources are treated as services and are available on-demand. Cloud computing services are used to meet the ever-growing demand for IoT. To supply the infrastructure for the IoT paradigm, data centres are becoming one of the biggest energy consumers, resulting in more environmental issues and CO2 emissions. Green cloud computing strategies reduce energy consumption by IoT devices without degrading their performance. In this regard, production of low energy consuming hardware and energy efficient software designs should be done. Greenness in software is emerging as a quality attribute.

Green coding and low-code development along with Automated Software Quality Monitoring are evolving as the next logical step for technology providers which minimises the energy consumption of software, thereby limiting the potential environmental impact. The choice of language, AI models and software development techniques also contribute to developing greener software.

Green coding is based on architectural principles of greener logic like zero-waste code, benefit-driven visual content, low-footprint resources; greener methodology involving Agile and Lean methods; and the platform being used to develop and run the code. The developers should focus on removing unused features and inefficient loops in the code as well as limit apps’ computational accuracy as required for operational needs and to monitor its real time energy consumption.  

Several companies, including Accenture, GitHub, Microsoft, and ThoughtWorks, have committed to contributing to address the global climate crisis, so sustainability becomes a core priority to software teams, just as important as performance, security, cost and accessibility. They have united to form the nonprofit Green Software Foundation to promote Green software development, their main priority being sustainable software which reduces carbon emission. Tools and resources like Intel’s Power Gadget, PowerLog, and Powerstat are available to developers for measuring and managing energy consumption. Intel’s Software Development Assistant allows developers to take energy measurements from the system as it executes specific workloads within their application and determine its efficiency.

Resource virtualisation, energy-efficient resource allocation and task scheduling mechanisms should be adopted to promote efficiency in utilisation. The number of system resources that can be used is increased through virtualization in a sustainable fashion. It helps the server group maximise their capacity for resource sharing and enables better resource monitoring and management. Virtual Machine monitor or hypervisor are used for resource virtualisation. VMware Fusion, MS Hyper-V, VMware Workstation and Vagrant are a few popular virtualization tools.

Nano Data Centers are more energy-efficient than conventional data centers. They help reduce the cost of heat dissipation, they have high service proximity, and have the capacity for self-adaptation or self-scalability. Machine learning can reduce the need for data centre cooling by a significant percentage.

Drones are crucial to the greening of IoT. It offers effective energy utilisation, hence lowering the power consumption of IoT devices. IoT devices require a lot of transmission power to relay data across long distances. Therefore, the drone can move closer to IoT devices to collect, process and send data to another device that is in a different location. The methods of data collecting using drone-based WSN have been successful in lowering flight time, energy consumption, and data gathering delay.

Thanks to IoT, the world of machine-to-machine, or M2M, communications is growing rapidly, and mostly invisibly. The network of smart objects that range from light switches to refrigerators, utility metres to parking spaces, are all equipped with sensors and capable of communicating with one another, taking measurements, and making decisions. There are billions of connected devices worldwide that consume a lot of energy.

Green M2M focuses on using energy efficient techniques to intelligently adjust the transmission power, design efficient communication protocols, do activity scheduling based on workload variation, and employ energy harvesting. Ford worked with AT&T to equip their electric vehicles with a wireless connection and dedicated app that allows the owner to monitor and control vehicle charge settings, plan single- or multiple-stop journeys, locate charging stations, and pre-heat or cool the car. Wireless-enabled fleet management and telemetrics help truck, and logistics companies reduce the number of empty or under utilised trucks on the road.

Principles for Green IoT

The principles that can be followed by a common man to contribute towards Green IoT are simple as well as eco-friendly. First and foremost, save power to save the planet. Turn off the facilities that are not needed. People tend to use online videos to fall asleep, which place unnecessary demand on data centres and harms the climate. For energy saving, sleep scheduling is used by WSNs to make sensor nodes dynamically sleep and awake as per their usage requirements.

Then, send only the data that is needed, as data  transmission, especially streaming videos, consumes quite a lot of energy. A one-minute cell call has a slightly larger carbon footprint than sending a text, but internet video calls have a substantially higher carbon impact. Predictive data delivery based on user behaviour analysis can be used to provide only the required data to users. Also one should compress and aggregate data whenever possible while using smaller sizes for media and images. Reducing the resolution of screen images on a mobile app with a heavy user base can save a lot upon energy.

The length of data path should be minimised using energy efficient routing schemes and architectural designs for wireless communications, e.g. using relay nodes to overhear the transmission and relay the signal to the destination node results in energy efficiency.

Another way to follow green IoT is to trade off processing for communication. With the assistance of various wireless sensor devices, the IoT produces a variety of massive, multi-source, heterogeneous, and sparse data sets. Data fusion is primarily used to reduce data size, optimise data traffic volume, and extract valuable raw data from which IoT services can be enhanced and intelligent services given.

Towards green communications, advanced communication techniques like a cognitive-radio (CR) system which is aware of its environment and can change its modes of operation via software and hardware manipulation is able to improve spectrum-usage efficiency and minimise the problem of spectrum over-crowdedness. MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) is an efficient transmission technology used in wireless communication for transmission and reception. The combination of multiple transmission sources enhances higher data rate and system efficiency.

All individuals as well as organisations should emphasise on the usage of renewable green power sources like wind, solar, water, geothermal energy. Using renewable green power sources will have a positive impact on the environment by minimising the emission of CO2.

Low-code development in combination with automated software quality monitoring will pave the way to a sustainable society. It would aim to remove or refactor unused features and improve energy efficiency and make the software more maintainable. Also try to adapt the whole application or software component behaviour according to the underlying device power mode or other environmental and operating conditions. Monitor real-time energy consumption of the application, to identify software modules that can be optimized to produce fewer emissions.

Lastly, Instead of thinking vertically, think horizontally. There are several IoT solutions on the market that guarantee a quickly deployable, end-to-end solution for a particular issue. If those solutions turn out to be one-offs that cannot or do not interact with current or future systems, they may ultimately turn out to be a waste and require replacement. So, while designing and planning an IoT project, it's important to think about how common platforms, infrastructure, and even individual devices might be reused as applications and use cases grow over time. Examples of such problems include smart parking and dynamic street lighting.

The future for green IoT

Green IoT will transform our lives into a greener, healthier environment in the future which is socially and environmentally sustainable, smarter as well as safer. Currently, the most exciting areas focus on greening things such as green networking and communication, green design, and green IoT installations, green services, and applications, energy-saving techniques  and green localisation. Energy issues such as energy harvesting and developing low-power chipsets are central to the development of the green IoT.

Transmission data from the sensor to the mobile cloud would be more useful. The WSN is integrated with mobile cloud via the sensor-cloud architecture. This green IoT technology will help cities become more environmentally sustainable through IoT. Additionally, a green social network as a service (SNaaS) could enhance the system's energy effectiveness, service provisioning, sensor networks, and cloud-based WSN management.

M2M is crucial in saving energy and harmful emissions. For automated systems to work, smart machines must become smarter. In case of traffic, machine automation delay must be minimised while taking immediate, appropriate action.

Green design of IoT systems that live up to their potential as "greener" technologies is imperative for helping organisations meet their sustainability goals. This can be achieved by putting efforts in meticulous planning and designing of IoT products, and IoT projects and solutions, by using the combination of remote connectivity, low-power and low-cost devices.

Research areas include development of novel and more efficient, compact energy storage like batteries, fuel cells, and printed/polymer batteries. Also, development of new energy generation devices coupling energy transmission methods and energy conversion is a topic of concern.

In order to green the IoT, it will be necessary to use less energy, look for new resources, reduce the negative effects of the IoT on human health, and cause less environmental disruption. Then, green IoT can greatly contribute to a sustainable, intelligent, and green environment.


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