Tech That Keeps The Planet Cool

31 July 2019

I lit my first fire at home for the year on the unusual date of May 31, just one day before the official beginning of winter.

I live in the sunny north side of Auckland, but I would have expected to see my dog sleeping in front of the fire by around late April.

There are some of us who believe that to the detriment of future generations the planet is suffering from global warming and others who feel that the scientific consensus is still a long way from being agreed. Either way, I do believe there is a general accord that we can’t keep consuming the planet’s resources at the rate we are, without very dire consequences.

Whether it is to save the planet or to drive efficiency, businesses are now using technology to reduce their carbon footprint. Some of these are unexciting and some are just plain cool. Either way, I describe below a few to pay attention to.

Tech to reduce the footprint

Methane co-generation

Very few people realize that Auckland’s largest landfill is also an energy park. The rubbish that goes into Waste Management’s Redvale Landfill captures more than 95 percent of the methane gas that is generated from the waste, which is then used to generate up to 14MW of electricity. Last year this meant it generated enough electricity to power 12,000 homes, making it the largest producer of renewable electricity in the Auckland region.

Heat recovery

Energy-intensive businesses, supported in some cases by subsidies from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA), are now placing increased emphasis on the reuse and reinjection of heated water and steam in their industrial processes. We at Total Utilities have, as a result, seen excellent improvements in energy efficiency at factories and larger campuses.

Heat recovery is also used for go-generation where energy is converted to electricity and put back on the national grid.

Sensors, monitoring and the Internet of Things (IOT)

There is a difference between managing and monitoring business activities. A simple analogy is parents in the park: one couple hovers over their beloved children, constantly checking and rechecking their safety while exhausting everyone in the process; meanwhile, over at the park bench, another couple enjoys the sun, chats and drinks coffee while watching their young ones interact safely with the world and only interfering when they observe a real problem.

In the past, businesses used product-specific sensors to monitor equipment and processes. These sensors tended to be expensive, proprietary and clunky in their outputs (think: complex graphs on green screens).

Today an edgy new cousin has turned up, reducing the cost of monitoring, and providing rich insights via web-based applications that run on almost every device. This is called the Internet of Things (IOT). These simple, useful sensors provide streams of meaningful data about electricity consumption, temperature, process efficiency, humidity and more.

Artificial intelligence

While the Internet of Things sounds a bit like Nirvana, it does have one significant flaw: complexity. In theory, we could provide an IoT connector to every grain of sand on Earth without consuming all the available capacity.

Making sense of all the data it reports is the big problem. This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) comes in. Capable of analyzing billions of bits of data from multiple data sources, AI is being used by many businesses to sift huge data pools and deliver the insights and activities that deliver competitive advantage and reduce wastage.