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Building the Smart Grid: Machine-to-Machine Technology

machine communicationMachine to Machine (M2M) technology is what makes the “Smart Grid” smart.  We often hear about the many benefits of smart grid technology, but we rarely examine the backbone of that concept.  M2M technology that comprises the smart grid includes devices such as smart meters and other communications technology.  This two way communication allows information to flow back and forth between the utility and customer almost instantly.  M2M can be considered a component of information and communications technology (ICT), which includes telecommunications and cellular technology.

A report released in February by The Carbon War Room breaks down several benefits of M2M technology.  It turns out, per the report, that the M2M-enabled smart grid is a significant contributor to the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG).  “According to research conducted by several industry organizations and NGOs, growth in ICT and M2M has the potential to enable efficiency gains throughout the global economy that could yield GHG emissions reductions of up to 9.1 gigatons Gt CO2e by 2020,” asserts the report.  This is a remarkable figure because the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the world needs to reduce GHG emissions by 5-7Gt CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) by 2020 in order to meet the global temperature increase goal of no more than 2°C.

The “internet of things” as M2M is sometimes called, is revolutionizing the energy industry, and helping reduce CO2 emissions.  This is because the smart grid’s instant information flow means energy conserving decisions can be made quickly both by connected devices and the people operating them.  If the report is correct, M2M could even be a savior for climate change.

On the other hand, the manufacturing, storage, and data processing needed to operate M2M networks have a sizeable carbon footprint, so the potential GHG savings could be far less than estimated.  Energy efficiency gains in the ICT industry can help keep net emissions down.   Still, the GHG savings of implementing M2M networks far outweighs the carbon footprint.  In addition, the M2M market is expected to explode to 12.5 billion devices and almost a trillion dollars by 2020.

Clearly, future technology is going to rely heavily on M2M communication.  Both the economic and environmental possibilities of the technology seem promising.  If the technology can really deliver what researchers are predicting, we could have smart machines to thank for making the snap decisions on energy conservation that fix our GHG emissions and send our economy soaring.

Jessica Kennedy's picture
Thank Jessica for the Post!
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