Solving the climate crisis with Industry 4.0 (Reader Forum)
We are currently facing a climate crisis that is becoming more severe with every continent it affects. Despite multiple warnings, energy usage continues to grow and countries are falling behind in adopting solutions to meet their 2030 climate goals. It’s no surprise that now is the time for bold collective action. In fact, scientists believe that humankind could face an existential risk by as early as 2050 if we don’t act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. We need change that is fast and far-reaching, and with advances in mobile connectivity, Industry 4.0 offers us a lifeline to radically transform our approach and enact change on a larger scale.
Disruptive technologies in the climate race
While Industry 4.0 and climate change seem like they wouldn’t typically go hand-in-hand, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has arrived at a critical time for climate action. The emergence of this new revolution connects physical assets to digital ones and fosters a more collaborative approach across organizations and society. In particular, technologies like 5G and cellular IoT are laying the foundation for Industry 4.0 and will change how businesses are wired and global challenges are addressed.
By 2025, 5G is expected to provide network coverage for up to 65 percent of the world’s population, while LTE is forecasted to cover up to 90 percent. Not only will the technology pave the way for the development of the Internet of Things (IoT), but 5G is also expected to have more energy efficient options than previous generations, thereby allowing us to better control consumption levels and contribute to breaking the energy curve.
Additionally, IoT will drive an increase in efficiency that will help us to better measure our climate impact. With billions of connections and sensors being incorporating into our daily life, industries will be able to access real-time data and remote operating capabilities necessary in making positive change. With 1.5 billion cellular IoT connections expected by 2025, the possibility of modifying our energy usage in scenarios that were previously overlooked becomes a reality.
In our new Industry 4.0 world, digital technologies can also allow for autonomous operations. Industries utilizing IoT with 5G networks will be able to minimize the amount of power used during periods of low traffic by having devices power off when not in use and power up in times of high traffic – all without human input and to conserve energy. This giant leap in technological capability will move us towards a more connected society that ultimately supports a sustainable future for everyone.
Leveraged in the right way, digital technologies like 5G and IoT can accelerate the reduction of global emissions by up to 15 percent by 2030, while being responsible for only 1.4% of global emissions. So, if used properly, digital technologies can become powerful tools in this climate race.
Notably, the Exponential Climate Action Roadmap Report released in 2018 outlines the overall decarbonization pathway required to meet the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement. Specifically, it outlines how existing digital technologies can help reduce global GHG emissions through solutions in energy, manufacturing and more.
Energy-efficient industries in the era of digitalization
Today, there are many industries that are stepping up their efforts in the era of digitalization. Smart manufacturing, logistics and mining are just a few examples of industries that have shown to have better control over their operations to improve processes, drive growth and accelerate the reduction of global emissions.
Here businesses are leveraging the value of 5G, wireless IoT with Augmented Reality (AR) and machine learning to increase quality in manufacturing.
One application currently being deployed on factory floors that has proven to impact sustainability efforts is the use of remote experts. With developments in AR technologies, factories can ping experts from anywhere in the world to troubleshoot applications and communicate remotely with on-site technicians. Not only does this reduce overall fault detection time and increase efficiency, but it also impacts a company’s carbon footprint if adopted widely.
Through developments in wireless IoT, factories can also regulate temperature levels to reduce CO2 emissions and lower heating costs. While this may not have the biggest impact on climate action, it is a step towards finding more energy efficient solutions in an industry that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
By making our factories smarter, more measurable and trackable through the implementation of digital technologies, we can increase efficiency gains and reduce overall energy consumption. Additionally, capabilities such as trouble shooting, precise indoor localization, work environment monitoring and predictive maintenance makes the manufacturing industry leaner and safer as we dive deeper into Industry 4.0 and the green revolution.
There is also the added benefit of having more resilient and adaptable processes for times of disruption, like the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The adoption of IoT has proven to be a valuable asset for supply chain management since the technology addresses shipments being moved around, tracked and housed by a number of machines, vehicles and people.
Today, mass production has transformed into mass customization as businesses and consumers pursue products that are uniquely tailored to fit their requirements. Additive manufacturing with 3D capabilities has reduced time-to-market and localized manufacturing. But there is still more that can be done to transform our planet.
As warehousing hubs continue to grow, Autonomous Electric Transportation powered by 5G can be a key enabler in reducing transport emissions in the logistics industry. Operated remotely through 5G networks, smart vehicles can challenge their older, wasteful and more inefficient form of intralogistics. Transportation and vehicles equipped with 5G connectivity will make roads more environmentally friendly, while allowing transportation to run more efficiently. In fact, switching to Autonomous Electric Transportation can reduce the CO2 emissions of a logistics network by 90 percent. Additionally, commercial vehicles being driverless means less downtime, more reliability, healthier air quality and essentially more sustainable cities.
To achieve a sustainable society, the logistics and supply chain industry must continue to reduce CO2 emissions and improve energy efficiency. If leveraged the right way, they can have a significant impact on environmental efforts and limit global shipping.
Mining is another sector that will be highly impacted by digital transformation over the coming years.
The industry is known to require minute precision that with any disturbance in the finely tuned flow of materials, can lead to major consequences for a miner’s operations.
In recent years, mobile connectivity has proven to be robust enough to deploy in mining environments without causing disturbances. Rolling out CO2-reducing electrification technologies, low-latency wireless communication and radio networks has helped improve operations and reduce environmental footprints. It has also delivered several IoT use cases including automation of ventilation systems, real-time personnel and vehicle tracking, and remote-controlled machinery.
Increasing levels of automation in the mining industry will increase efficiency and improve safety for all workers. Remote control and haptic feedback over 5G can also be used to control heavy machinery, which can potentially save lives and make mining more sustainable.
New opportunities in our industrial journey
We are reaching a tipping point in the race to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We have already seen changes in the Earth’s climate and if we continue to ignore these warning signs, we could potentially be committing the world to long-term irreversible changes.
Digital technologies like IoT, enabled by 5G, have the potential to disrupt industries by providing opportunities to reduce non-sustainable practices. This includes creating new business models, improving safety, inclusivity, affordability, as well as sustainable growth.
Industry 4.0 is the world’s largest innovation platform and has the potential to lead the green revolution by steering sectors on the right track to meet their 2030 goals. However, it’s up to us to implement these technologies and take the necessary steps forward.