November 17, 2021   |   Updated: November 18, 2021

For businesses, sustainability goals were once seen as a choice. Increasingly, they are an imperative. Consumers, investors and governments are seeking assurances that the demands of the present don’t compromise the future. 

Digital technologies are paving the way, in a couple of ways, like cutting power consumption, supporting renewable sources of energy and decentralizing services to mitigate the impact of natural disasters caused by climate change. Along the way, they’re using big data, smart grid, blockchain, renewable energies, Internet of Things and electric cars.                         

“The technologies as a whole require a high energy expenditure to be developed, however, they replace previous less efficient and dirty methods such as the use of fossil fuels and biomass,” said IEEE Member Filipe Torres.

The IEEE Standards Association supports sustainability through standards that cover, among other things, the interfaces between renewable energy sources and smart grids, the operation of smart grids and methods to measure and identify power consumption of IT and communications devices.  

Increasing Energy Efficiency

Global electricity consumption is increasing faster than the worldwide population, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency. This increase reflects changes in the composition of the global economy toward more energy-intensive industries.

But the rise in consumption has increased the need for energy efficiency, in part to offset higher energy prices and also to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. 

“Electricity prices are trending upwards in many areas, so reducing electricity consumption through sustainability efforts can help save significant amounts of money in the long run,” said Kyri Baker, IEEE member. 

“Smart devices that monitor and control usage of natural resources such as water, electricity and gas are among the technologies that will drive sustainability in the near future,” said Guilherme Susteras, IEEE Senior member. 

Another energy efficiency initiative that is generating significant interest: harnessing waste heat from computers for power generation, either at the data center level or from individual graphics cards. 

Supporting Renewable Energy

One challenge of supporting renewable energy is that power generation may not align perfectly with demand. Power consumption tends to drop at night when people are asleep. Wind turbines, however, may still be able to produce power during this time. But unless that energy can be stored in batteries, the wind turbines may simply shut down.

A promising avenue for increasing the number of batteries: storing energy in electric vehicles. The vehicle batteries can be charged during off-peak hours. And during the day, when power demand is high but the vehicles are not in use, they can provide electricity to the grid through bi-directional chargers. 

Baker said this type of system could be beneficial for organizations that operate vehicle fleets. 

“Looking forward, businesses can also leverage transportation electrification by electrifying fleet vehicles, drawing more people to the business by providing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and even utilizing bi-directional EV chargers to help shave peak demands and lower electricity bills,” she said. 

Decentralized Assets

Rooftop solar panels and localized energy storage can help decrease reliance on a centralized grid. That’s a huge benefit in the case of a natural disaster or widespread power failure. 

“Increased deployment of decentralized energy resources — in particular (partly) self-sufficient microgrids with autonomous generation and storage capacity, that are capable of providing service even when faced with grid failures will enable a better response to natural disasters,” said Jorge Soares, IEEE Senior member. “Innovations here range from improved computing capacity, better prediction models, and even vehicle-to-grid capabilities.”  

Universities are an ideal venue to explore smart cities technologies. Some are as large as small towns, but their environments can be easily influenced. This IEEE Xplore article explores what researchers are learning about smart cities technology from the experience of university campuses across the world. 

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