Everything new under the sun: green energy can power the Internet of Things

Linked objects within the Internet of Things make data collection easier, faster, more accurate, and more robust. Instead of weighing a trash truck at the end of a route to figure out how much garbage each neighborhood generates, an array of Bigbelly trashcans can give much more precise information about an area, indicating which streets need more receptacles, which cans can go an extra day or two without pickup, even the average time of day each specific unit fills up—leading a city’s sanitation department to make better budgetary choices and labor allotments.

But you can’t track, collect, and transmit this data without energy.

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Sean Green, CTO of Simply Solar, sees this as an encouragement to adopt environmentally conscious energy sources: “One of the major roadblocks in adopting green technologies or any sort of environmentally responsible policy is readily available data at the consumer level. If you have that knowledge of where your power is going, how your power is being generated, and you have direct control over that, I think that’s very powerful for the Internet of Things.”

The locavore’s energy solution

Buying your carrots at the farmers market only scratches the surface of sustainability. As Green says, “You need food, water, shelter, and energy to survive. Everybody focuses on going local for the other three, but you don’t really think about how far your energy travels to get to you or what sources it comes from. Solar is as local as you can get.”

In the current model, consumers typically install photovoltaic (PV) solar panels on the roof of their home or business (or even the parking lot). During the day, energy is gathered, turned into AC power, and used immediately. Excess is sold to a traditional power company at a fixed rate and added to its grid, but at night, when the panels aren’t producing usable energy, consumers buy power back from the power company (often at a reduced price).

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This newfound era of extensive usage data can make those daylight hours even more productive. For instance, apartment buildings can install large, well-insulated hot water tanks to operate during the day using solar thermal power, reducing the need to buy power from the utility company to heat water at night.

Where do we go from here?

Right now, the biggest concerns for solar power are storage and space. Companies are racing to create storage solutions (large batteries that can collect solar power for nighttime use) at a cost that’s not prohibitive. And though they’re about half as efficient as high-efficiency PV cells, recently developed transparent solar cells show promising application for heretofore unusable space (like the sides of a skyscraper or the screen of your smartphone).

Solar is as local as you can get.

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Even when using the tech we have available right now, PV panels last about 40 years with a modest rate of degradation—half to one percent a year. Green highlights the wise investment: “After 20 years, you’re still producing over 85 percent of the electricity you were originally creating. In the grand scheme of things, that degradation is pretty minimal, considering what you would pay your utility company for that power is most likely going to increase in cost over those next 20 years.”

With tax breaks for solar adopters, potentially significant utility savings (for those who live in energy-expensive locations), and the great PR of going green, there are plenty of reasons for companies to consider solar power, particularly given the prevalence of smart tech in buildings. If you’re in Northern California, Simply Solar can help you make the switch. Oh, and remember those Bigbelly cans? Yeah, they’re powered by the sun.

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