In Celebration of Earth Day: IoT May be the “Greenest” Type of Embedded Design

Last year, All About Circuits covered the lasting —especially as it relates to modern PCB design practices. But disposal practices aren't the only way that technological innovations intersect with sustainability. More powerful computing devices and sophisticated software models also entail more energy consumption.

A Nature report predicts that the information and communication technology (ICT) sector alone, which consists of data centers, consumer devices, and networks, is expected to account for . 


In Celebration of Earth Day: IoT May be the “Greenest” Type of Embedded Design

ICT energy forecast. Image used courtesy of 

The Internet of Things (IoT), on the other hand, is a field that has the potential to benefit the environment in more ways than one. 


IoT, Edge Computing, and the Environment 

One way in which. While data centers are responsible for approximately 2% of global CO2 emissions, edge computing is significantly more sustainable for two main reasons.


1. Reduced Reliance on Data Centers

First, edge computing helps reduce network traffic and cloud data center usage. Edge computing means that information, which would have otherwise been sent to data centers, is instead processed on the device. This reduces the energy spent on traversing a network and frees up bandwidth over the network. 


In Celebration of Earth Day: IoT May be the “Greenest” Type of Embedded Design

Block diagram of an example edge processing ecosystem. Image used courtesy of

Yesterday, Akamai, a self-proclaimed leader of the intelligent edge, announced . The company, which currently hosts 325,000 servers in 1,435 networks globally, intends to tap into machine learning to cache the most essential data to edge servers and eliminate extra trips to the data's origin. Not only will this initiative conserve memory and CPU power consumption, but it may reduce carbon emissions as well. 


2. Edge Devices Are Inherently Power Savvy

Edge computing is inherently designed for power efficiency. Most edge devices are battery-powered and resource-constrained, meaning their energy budget is very limited. Still, this year, many semiconductor suppliers have pushed the limits of these already low-power designs even further with, for example, and .


In Celebration of Earth Day: IoT May be the “Greenest” Type of Embedded Design

Manufacturers like Aspinity are getting creative with ways to conserve edge computing power, as represented in this “analyze-first” architecture. Image used courtesy of

Further, , making their energy sources 100% renewable. Some of these techniques include , , , and , or a combination of multiple energy sources. 


IoT's Hefty Portfolio of “Green” Applications

IoT is also heralded for its sustainability because of the many “green” applications in which it's deployed. 


Wildlife Tracking

One popular environmental-facing embedded application is wildlife tracking. For example, the , a species that has seen a huge population decrease over the past decade.


In Celebration of Earth Day: IoT May be the “Greenest” Type of Embedded Design

Tracker affixed to a harbor seal. Image used courtesy of the

The scientists will be able to observe and analyze patterns in the seal’s behavior to sketch a complete picture of the population’s decrease and hopefully prevent its extinction.


Sustainable Smart Homes

The consumer-facing notion of . A modern smart home includes many interconnected sensors that adjust the environment for energy efficiency: smart homes can detect when the house is vacant and turn off lights and lower the thermostat to help save energy.


In Celebration of Earth Day: IoT May be the “Greenest” Type of Embedded Design

Semtech's LoRa Core Mbed Shield transceiver for smart home applications. Image used courtesy of

. To commemorate Earth Day, using a series of .                   


Agricultural Efficiency

Energy-efficient embedded designs also play . Smart farming uses IoT devices to constantly monitor and control a crop field (for example) for improved efficiency. In fact, last year, we reported on, that are used to monitor how temperature, humidity, and ambient light affect crop growth and even the respiratory conditions in farm calves.


In Celebration of Earth Day: IoT May be the “Greenest” Type of Embedded Design

Cornell researchers encased each ChipSat and sensor unit in a foam cup to protect temperature readings from being skewed by sustained sunlight exposure. Image used courtesy of John Munson and


Using IoT solutions, farmers can reduce waste and enhance productivity, enabling the efficient use of resources such as water and electricity. Agriculture is a notoriously large contributor to CO2 emissions and resource consumption, and improvements in this field could have huge impacts.


The Most Sustainable Technology? 

Power efficiency is never far from an engineer's thoughts—but this focus is often primarily linked to design-level considerations—not environmental ones. Still, the ramifications of energy-conscious designs make a significant impact on sustainable electronics as a whole.

Between offering extremely efficient operations, utilizing renewable energy, and enabling a plethora of environmentally-friendly applications, there is certainly . 



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