IoT will play an important role in the energy crisis
With the petroleum industry struggling to respond to the post-pandemic demand recovery and the worldwide supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19, a global energy crisis has emerged in the oil, gas, and electricity markets. The problem has been amplified by international sanctions related to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict and climate abnormalities, such as droughts and heat waves affecting hydropower generation and nuclear power plant cooling in Europe, North America, and Asia. Extremely low supplies of fossil fuels, especially in Europe, result in increased coal consumption and thus threaten to erase decades of work to reduce air pollutants and emissions.
The massive deployment of the Internet of Things (IoT) enables energy-saving projects and initiatives in city infrastructure, buildings, logistics, and industrial facilities worldwide. These data-harnessing Smart Cities and Smart Buildings could alleviate the energy crisis by substantially increasing energy efficiency with the help of smart sensors, tracking, and improved data flow. For example, massively scalable and reliable IoT connectivity allows detailed energy consumption monitoring in buildings. The European Council has agreed to a voluntary overall reduction target of 10% of gross electricity consumption and a minimum reduction target of 5% in peak hours this winter . Adjustments to meet this goal require accurate and easily accessible information about one’s electricity consumption, which IoT connectivity can help provide.
Distributed energy, also known as on-site generation, is one of the most important energy-saving applications made possible by smart grids. It allows the collection of energy from many local, renewable sources as opposed to conventional, centralized power stations, which require energy to be transmitted over long distances. Smart cities can avoid the transmission and distribution losses associated with centralized stations by establishing a Distributed Generation (DG) network. For example, pairing Geothermal Technology and Solar Photovoltaics for net-zero energy homes could lower energy costs by up to 88% and emissions by as much as 99% compared to equivalent energy production without DG systems.  A scalable and reliable IoT connectivity could provide accurate, real-time local usage data to map out demand and also help mitigate the problem of uncertainty related to renewable energy sources, such as solar power or wind power.
IoT connectivity solutions can also significantly impact energy efficiency in manufacturing and logistics. Similarly to Smart Cities, industrial facilities can use IoT connectivity to automatically adjust lighting and heating (or cooling) for each room or container based on its contents to ensure energy isn’t wasted on empty or unused spaces. To regulate many different areas of the same facility simultaneously and reliably, the IoT connectivity must operate at a high density and be easy to deploy in different environments. Smart machines connected to an IoT network can also alert managers and workers when they are not being used energy efficiently. For example, if the cold room door in a facility is not closed correctly, a worker could receive a notification on their phone saying someone left it open.
By tracking all assets en route and in the warehouse, scalable and high-density IoT connectivity can considerably increase energy efficiency in logistics. Suppose managers are constantly aware of the number of assets in stock and the ETA of shipments. In that case, they will lose fewer assets to spoiling, make fewer unnecessary orders, and make fewer trips to the field to sort out problems, all saving energy.
By equipping our home or office with IoT technologies, we can track the activities of inhabitants in the building and make decisions that can save energy, money, and the environment. As energy prices soar, the general public is more aware of its energy consumption than ever. IoT connectivity in Smart Buildings and homes could take advantage of the energy crisis by helping businesses and consumers establish sustainable habits for now and the future. However, if IoT connectivity is to permanently engage people in saving energy, it must be secure, affordable to scale everywhere, and, most importantly, easy to use for all markets. Such a solution could be, for instance, a simple website or smartphone application providing its user with detailed, real-time information about their energy consumption.
The IoT technology must be energy efficient to impact energy saving positively. If not given a second thought, this exchange of large amounts of information amongst thousands upon thousands of devices could create an energy need that cancels out the benefits of applying the technology. First, the sensors and devices in the network should be produced energy-efficiently from recyclable materials. When deploying the network, node placement should be carefully chosen to maximize efficiency, and ingenious routing mechanisms and topologies such as mesh should be used to minimize infrastructure needs. Using hybrid architecture, i.e., passive and active sensors for different tasks, can reduce the network's energy consumption. Finally, selective sensing should be used to collect only the data required in a particular situation and eliminate unnecessary data collection.
Let’s take action. Because of the magnitude and severity of the energy crisis, the development of electricity prices must not be left to the market alone. While the EU has done a good job of presenting targets and raising awareness, I believe more concrete action must be taken to ensure that electricity stays affordable for as many as possible. Fluctuating energy consumption results in sudden changes in electricity demand and puts a significant strain on the energy grid to meet these needs. Peak consumption must be reduced to allow utilities to keep providing safe, affordable, and reliable electric service. Otherwise, we might even see unplanned power outages in Europe this winter. Consumers should be aware of the importance of avoiding peak electricity usage times, and businesses should be paid (by authorities) for reducing demand, for example, by shifting their energy use times or switching to batteries or generators in peak times.
The sudden surge in profitability for non-renewable energy sources (coal, gas) hinders investments in renewable energy. Authorities should place tight caps on such earnings and redistribute the surplus profits to those struggling to pay their bills. The transition to green electricity lowers the supply (fewer sources) and thus raises electricity prices. Nevertheless, we should make this investment now that we can still transition smoothly. Once the planet runs out of non-renewable energy sources or the environment is damaged to the point where renewable energy becomes difficult to produce, it will be too late. We must remember that it will require significant efforts to provide a lifetime full of accessible energy for my generation, let alone future ones.
Words from the author:
As a university student majoring in industrial engineering and management and minoring in circular economy, seeing and experiencing the challenges facing our societies during the past couple of years has sparked in me an interest not only in the business opportunities inherent in finding solutions to these challenges but also in the general well-being of the Earth and the people on it. As I try to make ends meet despite surging food prices and a tight student budget, I often think about the importance of sustainable food production. Affordable nutrition is an absolute necessity for everyone, but it must be produced efficiently and sustainably. After all, we young people need this planet to feed us for a long, long time!