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Internet of Things October 2021 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: David Strachan-Olson

Opportunities for Climate and Environmental Sensors

Overview

Climate impacts will worsen during the coming decades. Governments, companies, and communities could benefit from a more detailed understanding of climate impacts on a local level. Vast networks of low-cost environmental sensors in combination with climate-intelligence systems could help organizations better understand and minimize climate risks.

Description

The global impacts of climate change will challenge companies and societies for decades to come. Understanding the impacts of climate change on both the macroscale and the microscale is of increasing importance to governments and companies. Because of this need, organizations and communities around the globe have a growing interest in sensor networks for monitoring a wide range of factors that relate to climate change, including weather, air pollution, water levels, soil moisture, and forest health.

Although organizations already track many such variables, companies and governments can benefit from having a more detailed view into the local impacts of these factors. Companies and governments are developing ways to create vast sensor networks of low-cost sensors in combination with high-cost precision sensors. For example, in 2020, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) worked with PurpleAir to integrate data from the company's network of user-owned air-quality sensors into the EPA's fire-and-smoke–mapping system. PurpleAir's data provides a local and real-time evaluation of air quality, and data from the EPA's high-cost precision sensors provide a correction factor to data from the low-cost sensors.

Climate-intelligence systems, which use historical data and predictive analytics to create risk assessments, can incorporate data from sensor networks. Notable start-ups developing climate-intelligence systems include Cervest, One Concern, and Jupiter Intelligence. These companies use climate modeling, sensor data, and AI to provide asset-level risk information. Such tools can, for example, help developers decide where and where not to build, help governments plan infrastructure investments, and help asset owners quantify climate risks. Similar tools can also help the insurance industry manage risk.

Implications

The impacts of climate change will worsen in the coming years and could begin to have regular impacts on government and corporate operations. Investors and regulators are pressuring companies to integrate climate-change-risk assessments into their financial decision-making and disclosures. Therefore, companies and governments would benefit from investing in technologies that can help them measure and understand climate impacts. For the IoT industry, environmental and climate sensing could represent a growing opportunity area. Large networks of low-cost sensors in combination with a handful of precision sensors can create an accurate local understanding of climate impacts and greenhouse-gas emissions. The wide-ranging impacts of climate change will give companies opportunities to develop a wide variety of sensors and monitoring systems. Because of the remote nature of such sensors, technologies that enable distributed sensor networks with minimal infrastructure will be of particular importance. Such technologies include low-power electronics, energy-harvesting systems, and low-power wide-area networks.

Relevant Areas to Monitor

  • Environmental Regulation

    Regulations and public interests have been key drivers in the sensors industry. Rules in many nations that favor clean air, energy efficiency, and safety mean that sensors are all but mandatory for monitoring emissions, air quality, water quality, and weather. Emerging regulations promise to drive large deployments of connected sensors.

  • Government Funding and Initiatives

    Government agencies sponsor the development of the sensor industry by investing in pure and applied research or by being customers for sensor technologies. Public investments and initiatives may spur the development of new infrastructure, such as mass-transit systems, water-treatment plants, and smart energy grids.

Impact Scale

On a scale of low, medium, or high, the anticipated level of impact for this topic is: Medium to High.

Impact Timing

On a scale of now, 5, 10, or 15 years, the anticipated impact timing for this topic is: 5 to 10 years.

Opportunities in the Following Industry Areas

  • Agriculture/Fishing/Food
  • Buildings/Real Estate
  • Internet of Things
  • Sensors/Electronics
  • Sustainability/Climate Adaptation