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How the Internet of Things is protecting the environment

Discover how product creators are transforming the ways we connect with the environment

Jeffrey Lee article author avatarJeffrey LeeDecember 11, 2018
How the Internet of Things is protecting the environment

In 2018, the west coast was on fire and the east coast was flooding. If it wasn’t clear before, it is abundantly clear now. The cost of ignoring climate change is only becoming worse. While the future may seem bleak on our ability to protect the environment, some entrepreneurs have been turning to the Internet of Things to counteract the effects of climate change and other environmental hazards.

At Particle, we have seen this firsthand. We have witnessed a number of product creators using IoT technology to monitor the environment, prevent floods, battle toxic fumes, and more. As such, in this blog post, we’ll examine 5 primary ways product creators and businesses are using IoT technology to monitor the environment and combat climate change.

1. Wiping Out Climate Change With Smartfin

Phil Bresnahan, a research engineer, and his team of environmental scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are using IoT technology to learn more about oceanographic phenomenons (i.e., things that are changing along coastlines).

How are they doing this you may ask? With Smartfin, an IoT-enabled surfboard fin that collects valuable oceanic data as surfers crush waves. It’s the perfect combination of research, data science, and gnarly fun.

Smartfin tracks board location, water temperature, the motion of break waves, the pH levels of water, and more. This data can often be tricky for scientists to gather because waters rescind and come in quickly. However, surfers are naturally out in the near-shore waters, which works out perfectly.

Phil Bresnahan and his team have started to work with other scientific and watersport communities to gather more data about the sea. With this data, they hope to provide policymakers with the insights they need to make informed decisions about the environment.

2. Battling Kilauea’s Deadly Fumes with The Hawai’i Vog Network

Kilauea, the most active volcano in Hawaii, erupted in May 2018. In a month’s time, Kilauea destroyed 700 homes, caused at least 21 fissures to emerge, and exposed residents to high levels of sulfur dioxide gas. Even today, these hazardous fumes are seething from the volcano with geologists warning that these eruptions could last for years to come.

With such high health risks, citizens were searching for data that could track volcanic vog (smog with volcanic gases) so they know what areas to avoid. However, citizens of the island are having trouble accessing this air quality information easily.

Environmental Monitoring, Environment, Envirotech, Particle, IoT

To give communities access to this data, a group of MIT scientists and the Khola Center used IoT sensors to create the Hawai’i Island Vog Network, a network that provides real-time measurements of hazardous fumes like sulfur dioxide in Hawaii. The network collects data using low-powered sensors that are stationed near eruption zones and are connected to the Internet via a Particle Electron.

With this network, not only do citizens have access to the data they need, but scientist are learning more about pollutants in Hawaii’s environment. One of the MIT scientists, David Hagan, has even deployed the same network infrastructure in Delhi, India (one of the world’s most polluted cities) to monitor pollution and take steps to reduce CO2 levels.

3. Shifted Energy Provides Energy Storage For Hard-To-Reach-Communities

The world is racing towards renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but the lack of sufficient storage capacity limits the ability to integrate intermittent power generation. At the same time, renters can’t participate in utility sponsored renewable energy programs, because they don’t have access to rooftop solar.

In fact, many renters pay high electric bills, taxes, and other fees to help modernize the electric grid without any direct benefit. Renters represent one-third of the US population, but they lack pathways to engage in renewable energy programs that offer incentives to homeowners who can afford solar and electric vehicles.

However, Shifted Energy is changing this paradigm by retrofitting existing water heaters into grid interactive water heaters (GIWH). With Particle’s IoT platform, they convert water heaters into batteries that act as demand response assets that can shift loads to reduce peak demand and help utilities stabilize the grid while integrating more renewable energy.

By connecting these GIWH units to the Internet, utility companies can control the GIWH units to absorb solar power during the day to heat water. The hot water remains hot and can be used any time without consuming more electricity, thus lowering peak demand.

4. Precision Farming Powered by IoT

IoT-based environmental monitoring has even been proven to be helpful on the farm. For example, Greg Meandel loves to build and program IoT projects that remove the complexity from daily farm life.

For instance, one of his many IoT projects is an excavator that can be started remotely. By using an Electron, he can remotely heat up the excavator’s block heater, which helps start up the engine. In some cases, he had to wait hours for the internal block to heat up. Now, he can wake up and wirelessly send a command to the electron via his phone. By the time breakfast is finished, the excavator is heated and ready to go.

This is just one of many IoT projects Greg has implemented on his farm. He also built a self-measuring grain device to keep a better eye on his grain levels.

After corn is harvested, the grain is collected in large storage bins. For Greg, he had to climb a ladder just to see inside the bin and track how much corn grain had been harvested. This turns into a rather timely and painfully repetitive task when you have to check it multiple times a day.

However, with his self-measuring grain device, it automatically records and alerts him about how much grain is left. By proactively monitoring his crops, Greg Meandel is ensuring that thousands of crops don’t get wasted and are put to good use.

5. Reducing Indoor Emissions With Connected Woodburning Stoves

IoT technologies are even helping to decrease the emission impact that comes from burning wood and charcoal. Over 3 billion people around the world cook with biomass over open fires inside their home. That’s nearly half of the global population that must rely on antiquated, unsustainable harvested energy sources like wood and charcoal to warm their houses and cook their food.

And while cooking over an open fire might seem romantic to some, it comes with a heavy price to families and the environment. The use of wood-fired stoves releases large amounts of CO2 and other harmful emissions that actively contribute to climate change. In fact, open fires produce over 1 billion tons of CO2 per and are responsible for roughly 25% of all global black carbon emissions.

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In an effort to decrease emissions and increase public health, the Honduran government partnered with Envirofit to deliver stoves to local communities in need. To ensure the stoves were being adopted Envirofit equipped 1,000 stoves with temperature sensors and Electrons to record exactly when and for how long the stoves are in use by the families who own them. With this system, they are also able to contact specific customers who aren’t using their stoves to understand why and help improve customer experience.

The Bottom Line

IoT technology plays a vital role in protecting the environment and combating climate change with air quality and continuous emissions monitoring solutions that can be deployed across our energy infrastructure and cities across the world. The types of environmental challenges we face will only continue to grow as our population increases as well. However, IoT technology gives us the opportunity to positively impact our environment by reducing our adverse effects on it. Eco-friendly, IoT technology is changing the way we approach conservation, pollution, and sustainability, allowing us to protect our environment more effectively.  

If you’re interested in starting your own green initiative, feel free to check out how others are using Particle to monitor and protect the environment here.