The IoT – Sustainability’s New BFF?

July 25, 2013

The IoT space is hotting up each and every day. New players coming in to the market, new products destined to adapt the way we live and new initiatives launched to save the world from imminent doom. This weeks Cleanweb Conference was very much focused on the latter.

iot sustainability, Cleanweb Conference

Here at EVRYTHNG we think a lot about sustainability, our Founder & CMO Andy Hobsbawm even started a non-profit aimed at using ‘creativity vs. climate change’. So the email from IoT Meetup announcing a conference focused solely on IoT and sustainability was pushing at an open door.

I went along with my buddy Steven Craig who is an IoT mad maker and we both got to hear about some truly great projects and startups that give you a little more faith in humanity.

First off I’ll say thanks to Chris Webb and his Cleanweb team for organizing another great meetup, Arup for organizing the space and food/refreshments, and of course the speakers for inspiring me to get off the grid and solar power my house!

I’ll start by giving a quick download of the speakers from the event as I think they all made key points that everyone can find a little comfort in – knowing that there are people out there that are really trying to use technology (and more importantly data) to make a difference.

Chris Webb began by introducing himself and Cleanweb. Their mission statement from the very beginning was enough to make me want to stand up, walk out and hug the first person I saw recycling. Cleanweb’s goal is quite simple: ‘Cleanweb innovators use web technology to fight climate change, and build a more sustainable and resilient future’.

Air Quality Egg, IoT sustainability

Chris then gave a few examples of what inspired Cleanweb to put the conference on, citing some examples from around the world on sustainable IoT projects such as Air Quality Egg, attaching Canon DSLR’s to drones to use them to track effects on seabirds from oil spills, and community projects such as the one in Deptford where residents used noise sensors to track and report the disturbance of nearby metalworks (power to the people!).

Francesco from Arup then gave a very short talk outlining some of the work they’ve done in the sustainability sector such as the Eden Project (which I LOVE).

Eden Project, IoT sustainability

While we waited for the next speaker, we were given two quick pitches from two companies involved in climate change and sustainability. The first was Mal from 1010 who is looking for a lead dev, info here. The second was a really interesting organisation called the IoTA (Internet of Things Academy) which helps communities to build their own connected products by offering tutorials, access to data sets and code base, and connecting you with collaborators in your area. They’re looking for members, so follow me and sign up!

The mic then went to Joe Short of a company called Demand Logic who, in my opinion, are destined to make a fortune and save the UK economy lots of money (about £500m if their estimations are correct – the cost of errors in control systems in large buildings).

The company in a nutshell is about ‘not forgetting the big stuff’ and working with commercial buildings to use connectivity and data to identify problem areas where they are wasting energy. An example would be a commercial chiller unit which uses the energy of 750 homes when it’s running, so it’s crucial these are only on when they need to be and off when they can be. Optimisation of these ‘things’ is essential to fight climate change.

Demand Logic fit data monitors that are able to gather large amounts of data (to date – 200 million values which equates to around 30GB of data) and help companies use the data properly. One of the ways they help is by creating data maps to effectively look at where problems may be occurring (such as areas heated more than others when they don’t need to be). Here’s the epic part of the story, they are so far typically saving buildings of around 10,000-15,000m2 between £50k-100k, equal to 1,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

After a great talk from Joe on an industrial scale it was over to Chris Elsmore and Steve Pike from Carbon Culture to discuss a spare time project they have been working on aimed at generating as much power as they can without calling on the grid. The idea is quite simply DIY solar panels and they told the story from the beginning (it was thought up during the www.emfcamp.org!).

Chris made his first solar panel for under £200 with MDF, some plastic from eBay and an Arduino sensor. On day 2 it started to generate power (albeit not huge amounts). On the plus side, they did manage to hack a Nintendo64 and run Wipeout from the power generated, which is pretty cool (p.s. what a console, I still run mine from the mains though).

Steve, Chris’ colleague, used the inspiration taken from the above hack to build a solar panel onto the wall of his flat (no house, no roof) and is now using his solar panel (which is using a Raspberry Pi and Arduino sensor with Xively reporting to track data) every day to charge his phone.

Granted it’s small scale sustainability but if enough people do it then it’s bound to take reliance off the grid for so much of our power. My next purchase will be a soldering iron!

There was an interesting point raised from the audience around a standard to allow people to power their own homes, apparently this is something that is happening in the US right now with the IEEE although I can’t verify this.

The last talk of the day was from Jessi Baker, one of the founders of Project Provenance who are trying to solve a problem of choices. Jessi started by asking the crowd how many of us would support slavery (no raised hands thankfully) and then proceeded to ask how many of us can be sure the clothes we are wearing weren’t made by a slave. Project Provenance is about helping people make better decisions through open data, essentially touting transparency as a unique selling point (which it should be in my opinion), and they are doing this by trying to join up data around products to give greater transparency on product origins and specifics, allowing the end-user to choose from different metrics than just price and perceived brand value (such as ethical trading and carbon footprint).

My 3 favourite quotes from the evening were all also provided by Jessi and her team:

On consumer values – “Are price and perceived brand value our only consumer metrics?”

On Google Glass – “Do I really want to just see the world according to what Google wants me to see?”

On transparency – “You can’t be semi-open or semi-closed.”

All in all Cleanweb Conference was an inspiring and thought-provoking evening, and I look forward to the next one…

In the meantime – reduce, reuse, recycle.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andy Perrin

Andy Perrin

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