Satellite IoT crucial to environmental sustainability

As we face unprecedented global environmental challenges, IoT has the potential to drive sustainable development, says Ground Control CEO Alastair MacLeod

Satellite IoT, a means of communicating with very remote assets and sensors, holds tremendous potential in monitoring, managing and mitigating environmental issues. 

The World Economic Forum’s IoT Guidelines for Sustainability report states that 84% of IoT deployments are addressing, or have the potential to address, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This is because satellite IoT's capacity to collect and transmit data, even in remote locations, holds immense potential for reshaping global sustainability initiatives. Thanks to its ability to facilitate intelligent communication between devices and utilising real-time data, satellite IoT helps to address environmental issues and promote sustainable practices.

Alastair MacLeod, CEO of remote connectivity provider Ground Control, is a key advocate for the crucial role satellite IoT plays in driving environmental sustainability and how these technologies are being deployed to address environmental challenges and promote sustainable practices. Here, he explains how.

But how and where? Satellite IoT and sustainability in practice

One area where we are seeing satellite IoT driving sustainability forward is in wildlife conservation and environmental monitoring. This offers a highly efficient and impactful method for gathering and transmitting essential data. A common scenario sees a form of LPWAN used for networking multiple sensors across a wide area. The data is aggregated in a gateway, and optimised for transmission over satellite. Because it has no reliance on cellular infrastructure, LoRaWAN is increasingly paired with satellites to build a fully wireless communication network. Characterised by their capability for long-range connectivity with minimal power consumption, these are particularly well-suited for tasks involving the transmission of modest data volumes across expansive distances.

A notable advantage of LoRaWAN lies in its capacity to cover extensive areas with minimal infrastructure requirements. Unlike traditional cellular networks, which often encounter limitations in delivering coverage to remote and challenging terrains like dense forests, mountains or deserts — habitats where numerous endangered species thrive — LoRaWAN excels, with the ability to span hundreds of square kilometres using just a single base station, or gateway, connected to satellites for data backhaul. This data is gold dust for environmental agencies and policymakers.

The concept of satellite IoT using data to empower environmental conservation efforts can be seen in the Digitalization of forest, which encompasses the integration of cutting-edge technologies into forest environments. The initiative aims to improve existing methods in monitoring, data acquisition and research and development. Notable technologies in this endeavour comprise the IoT, Wireless Sensor Networks, Internet of Trees and Deep Learning. For instance, satellite-enabled sensors can be deployed in forests to detect signs of deforestation, monitor wildlife movement and measure carbon dioxide levels. This data helps in making informed decisions for conservation efforts, preventing illegal activities and preserving ecosystems. These sophisticated systems are designed for intelligent sensing, monitoring and analysis, specifically targeting applications like forest fire detection, illegal logging and poaching and enabled by satellite IoT. 

Satellite IoT connectivity also contributes significantly to smart agriculture and precision farming, optimising resource usage and reducing environmental impact. Farmers now harness IoT sensors to oversee environmental factors, manage livestock and enhance decision-making across all facets of agriculture, transforming it into a ‘smart’ endeavour. Given the expansive nature of farm operations, LoRaWAN paired with a satellite enabled gateway emerges as an ideal technology to facilitate efficient IoT solutions within the agricultural sector. Effectively networked IoT sensors can monitor soil moisture levels, assess crop health and provide farmers with actionable insights even if the farm is in an extremely remote location. 

Precision agriculture, a farming management strategy based on observing, measuring and responding to temporal and spatial variability to improve agricultural production sustainability, holds the potential to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the agricultural industry, currently responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Adopting precision agriculture technologies can increase crop production, reduce resource usage, and have positive economic impacts. The Association of Equipment Manufacturers estimates current precision agriculture usage at 10-60%, predicting that a 90% adoption rate could lead to substantial benefits. However, slow adoption is attributed to challenges, with connectivity being a prominent issue, especially in remote farm areas.

Satellite IoT, therefore, is crucial in areas lacking traditional, cellular connectivity. For example, Synnefa, which facilitates remote farming for smallholders in rural Kenya, provides cost-effective, reliable and efficient data for farmers to make educated decisions about when to irrigate or fertilise their crops; or to use Synnefa’s smart greenhouses and drip kits which will automatically fulfil these tasks based on sensor data. The gains are spectacular: Farmers are saving water by more than 50%, reducing fertiliser application rates by 41% and increasing production by 30% when compared to yields prior to the use of their smart sensors.

The thorny climate change issue

Looking at climate change, satellite IoT contributes to climate change mitigation by providing invaluable data for monitoring and understanding environmental changes. Remote sensors deliver accurate real-time data to help us understand how we affect the environment. These sensors can track changes in sea levels, measure atmospheric carbon concentrations and monitor deforestation patterns, and their data can be securely, reliably and cost-effectively delivered over satellite. This data is crucial for climate scientists and policymakers in formulating evidence-based strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change and adapt to evolving environmental conditions.

Finally, the incorporation of satellite IoT also plays a role in disaster management, enhancing early warning systems and boosting response capabilities. Satellite-enabled sensors can monitor various natural disasters like hurricanes, floods and wildfires, supplying real-time data to emergency responders. This facilitates prompt evacuation, optimal resource allocation and efficient post-disaster recovery efforts, helping to reduce the environmental and human impact of such events. Satellite-empowered technology means that disaster management crews can comprehend their available resources, enabling them to coordinate actions effectively. Asset trackers fixed to vehicles and equipment can provide precise GPS coordinates at varying frequencies, depending on the disaster's scale, offering a tailored level of insight for swift and efficient relief efforts.

While satellite IoT presents numerous opportunities for environmental sustainability, challenges such as data security and high implementation costs must be addressed. Ground Control has written more on this topic including how to overcome infrastructure obstacles and make the benefits of IoT available to all. Future developments in satellite technology, including the deployment of smaller, more cost-effective satellites and advancements in machine learning for data analysis, hold promise for overcoming these challenges and further enhancing the impact of satellite IoT on environmental sustainability.

As technology continues to evolve, satellite IoT is poised to play an increasingly crucial role in encouraging a harmonious relationship between human activities and the environment. By leveraging the capabilities of satellite IoT, we can create a more sustainable future.

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