Digital technologies for a green future

Publication Date: May 23, 2022
 
Digital technologies for a green future
Article by Johann Mifsud Executive at eSkills Malta Foundation published in The Sunday Times of Malta on 22.05.2022

Human activity's negative impact on our planet and the environment is becoming increasingly apparent to modern civilization. Such impacts result in a rise in global temperature, pollution of the ecosystem, and a dramatic reduction in biodiversity. To slow and perhaps reverse these trends, we must adapt our current economic activities to make them more suitable. The EU has prioritised these issues in the international community and has set the ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050. 
Digital technologies such as; Artificial Intelligence, 5G, cloud, and the Internet of Things (IOT) are increasingly seen as key enablers to assist us, in solving issues related to the negative environmental impact of our industrial processes, buildings, transportation etc. 

Digital applications explicitly aimed at the environmental sector are referred to, as Green Digital.
Such digital technologies are already making a difference in many sectors such as climate monitoring, energy, agriculture, water resources, oceans/marine life, transportation and more.
Let us now have a look at some practical examples in order to illustrate how such systems can take us towards a greener future.

As a first example let us consider of a smart irrigation system, that delivers water to crops with precision. This is based on sensors (connected via IOT) distributed on the farmland that the system uses to adjust the water flow only to areas that require it. This translates into significant advances in productivity, yields, and costs while also reducing the impact on water reserves. Furthermore, similar systems are also used to dose nutrients and fertilisers, assisting in the reduction of global pollution. This translates in ecological benefits as well as the reduction of human disease with the reduced contamination of the environment. 

Another example is that of a building management software with AI capability. These systems learn about the behaviour of a building and its use patterns as well as factors that act on it, like the changing supply of renewable energy sources like solar panels and factors such as outside conditions like air temperature, sun and wind. The system leverages available controls to optimise the building’s energy consumption in a smart way as for instance by opening natural venting to cooler air outside and louvres for sunlight, it controls the climatisation and lighting of the building resulting in saving energy costs. The system reduces the operating costs of a building while also reducing the carbon footprint by reducing the fuel consumption of the facility. 

A final example is one that provides decision-makers at country and region level with predictions on the progression of phenomena such as desertification based on virtual models, big data and satellite imagery.  Such models bring in vivid focus, changes that are happening over months or years that are ‘imperceptible’ by eye.  This allows policymakers to make decisions on where to prioritise resources, such as irrigation and replantation efforts, in order to have maximum effect were needed most urgently.

There is no doubt that climate change and environmental degradation pose an existential threat to the world at large, and that mankind urgently has to devise ways to combat the negative effects of human activity with all means possible.

In this context, digital and other technologies, are already being used to great effect and are key drivers in bringing about change in all sectors of the economy to set us on the path towards more resource-efficient, competitive as well as circular processes. By finding ever more applications, to put these tools to use we can possibly not only arrest the damages we are inflicting to the environment but possibly also reverse some that have already been done.  This to the benefit of us all and those that come after us.
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