The number of connected devices in use, forming the Internet of Things (IoT), is rising rapidly. Gartner predicts 6.4 billion connected ‘things’ will be in use worldwide before the end of 2016. At an enterprise level, businesses are adopting IoT technology to automate business processes and generate data insights. However, this rapid increase in the number of devices in use is bringing a like-for-like increase in energy consumption. IoT network providers are having to power the devices and manage the data being collected, stored and analysed for each one – all at a cost. If businesses want to see a ROI for deploying IoT solutions, this energy requirement needs to be managed. This can be done through some of the latest technological innovations.

Take IoT deployments within the agricultural sector, for example. Networks are being deployed to monitor the environmental conditions within greenhouses, in order to boost crop growth. With sensors that monitor temperature levels, adjustments can be made that maximise plant yield. However, industrial farms will work across large hectares of land, making it tricky for some technologies to become fully optimised across the entire farm. If industrial farms don’t scale their IoT deployment appropriately, they could face an upfront cost in the hardware purchase, with additional investment down the line to power and manage all the sensors over a vast area.

Making greenhouses ‘green’

Recent technological developments in radio-frequency energy harvesting for the IoT are helping to address this need for efficient energy management. Radio frequency (RF) waves – the foundation upon which modern wireless communications operate – are constantly in use to broadcast data to receivers such as televisions, smart phones, laptops, tablets and wearables. With technology like Freevolt, and when sufficient RF energy density is available, RF signals from wireless networks, including 2G, 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi and digital TV broadcast transmissions, are converted into direct current power which can then trickle charge energy storage devices, such as batteries or super capacitors, to operate IoT devices.

This means that sensors across greenhouses, for example, can benefit from an extended battery life and an increased time between battery changes. As a result, RF energy harvesting technology reduces the economic and environmental impact of batteries being changed during the lifetime of a device. With lithium being a finite resource, operating agricultural IoT deployments in this way can render operations sustainable – making greenhouses ‘green’ in more ways than one.

Automating energy management

IoT networks can become even more energy efficient when RF energy harvesting technology is deployed alongside machine learning solutions, such as Sensyne. Machine learning for the IoT can regulate how often sensors collect data, as well as automate entire processes as intelligent systems which become the brain running an entire network. Enterprises can save energy – and the associated financial cost – by having IoT sensors only collecting data when required. And by automating processes, staff time is saved as staff no longer have to regularly monitor systems. When the two technologies are combined, systems can operate for longer, with less maintenance requirements and less energy cost.

The use cases span numerous industries. In pharmaceutical and hospital environments, medicines need to be stored in environments at specific temperatures. IoT deployments can monitor these temperatures automatically; whilst machine learning technologies fine-tune the sensors to ensure their reporting is accurate. When storage facilities need to be calibrated to highly specific measurements, automating the process means staff aren’t constantly revisiting refrigeration units. What’s more, compliance is enforced and regulated as the data collected is stored digitally, and available for historical reference.

Meanwhile, in smart building deployments, energy efficient IoT networks that intelligently monitor environmental conditions can even boost staff productivity. Recent research from Harvard Business Review has found that when exposed to air pollution, staff are less productive. Systems that regulate pollution levels within built environments, such as Aura, can therefore boost productivity by managing environmental conditions for staff – all in an energy efficient way.

When it comes to IoT deployments, energy management needs to be a vital consideration. Thanks to new business models, such as IoTaaS, more and more businesses, organisations and governmental bodies can deploy IoT networks throughout their operations. When combined with the latest technology solutions these networks will run efficiently in the long term as well – allowing organisations to collect vital business data at minimum additional cost.

By Lord Drayson PhD FREng, CEO, Drayson Technologies