Digital technologies such as the Internet of Things and 5G are helping to reduce emissions, a topic that has become increasingly popular in the business world recently. For example, a case study in the UK shows that by adopting them in manufacturing, transport and agriculture, CO2 emissions could be reduced by 17.4 million tons per year, thus playing a key role in the UK government's goal of reducing emissions by 78% by 2035 and zero by 2050.
These three areas were chosen for this study as they could make a significant contribution to UK emissions reductions. As might be expected, areas with higher population densities, such as cities, account for a greater share of carbon emissions. However, per capita emissions are higher in rural areas.
This study shows that some of the reductions in CO2 emissions would not have been possible without the use of digital technologies. For example, in the case of manufacturing, previously successful initiatives to reduce emissions have slowed in recent years, but IoT and 5G technologies such as 3D printing, smart sensors and automation have the potential to remove between 2.7 and 3.3 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere each year.
In agriculture, another high emitter in the UK, connected digital technologies applied to monitoring crops and fertilizers, feed and water supplies could significantly reduce wasted resources, helping to reduce emissions by between 2.4 and 4.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
For the UK's largest source of emissions, digital solutions can help reduce traffic and congestion, thereby limiting unnecessary fuel use. Research has shown that transport has the greatest potential to reduce emissions - up to 9.3 million tons of CO2 per year.
The UK manufacturing sector made great strides in decarbonizing from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, but progress has been slow in recent years.In 2019, around 82 million tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted into the atmosphere as a result of the UK's manufacturing activities, accounting for 15% of the country's total.
Technology is at the center of key government actions over the next few years to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050. These include actions aimed at the use of low-carbon fuel sources and the deployment of industrial digital technologies, which can be categorized into five main groups, largely driven by the Internet of Things and 5G:
1. Artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics
2. Additive manufacturing (3D printing)
3. Robotics and automation
4, virtual reality and augmented reality
5. Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and connectivity
In addition to the emissions reductions already mentioned, the combination of these technologies can provide significant benefits in terms of productivity, quality and efficiency. In addition, an Accenture analysis shows that the adoption of industrial digital technologies can lead to manufacturing growth of 1.5% to 3% per year, with a conservative estimate of a net gain of 175,000 jobs.
In 2019, agriculture emitted 46.3 million tons of carbon dioxide, accounting for 9% of the UK's total emissions. Agricultural activity differs from other sectors for two main reasons:
One, the main greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural activities are not carbon dioxide, but ethane and nitrous oxide. Two, agricultural activities contribute to climate change, but they are also part of the solution - growing trees, grasses and other non-agricultural plants on land managed by farmers can absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Digital technologies can make agriculture smarter through IoT sensors that help make better use of natural resources, reduce emissions from fertilizer consumption, promote regenerative agriculture and restore biodiversity.
Transport is currently the largest source of emissions in the UK, with the share generated by surface transport (not related to aviation or shipping) remaining virtually unchanged since 1990, reaching 113 million tons of CO2 emissions in 2019, or 22% of total UK emissions. Around 78% of surface transport emissions come from cars and light goods vehicles. The fact is that while the sector has achieved significant efficiency savings, demand has also increased.
The Internet of Things (IoT) as it exists today can play a significant role in reducing emissions in the short term by helping to change driver behavior while serving as the foundation for connected and self-driving cars, and eventually electric vehicles.