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How digital technology drives reaching the sustainable development goals

When climate change doesn’t come off the news headlines, sustainability drags more attention than ever. Governments and industries are searching for the best way of adapting to the rapidly changing requirements of markets and updating policies. The investments involve not only the newest hardware. They’re focused mostly on the cutting-edge digital technology that enables reaching sustainability goals and supports both business and the environment.

The common ground of business and technology

Business revolves around a profit-driven approach. It’s pure mathematics brought down to being viable for business or not. However, facing a global climate crisis added another variable to the equation – environmental safety and welfare. The equal sign between business profits and the environment is technology and its latest advances. The UN survey, World Economic And Social Survey 2018: Frontier Technologies For Sustainable Development indicates artificial intelligence, machine learning, renewable energy and energy storage technologies, autonomous vehicles and drones, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain technologies as the ones that have been impacting and will continue to impact a sustainable development the most*. Used as commercial leverage, technology works simultaneously as an accelerator for companies’ environmental performance. It changes the way modern business is done.

Technology as a sustainability enabler

Let’s start with some basics. Technology enables measuring things, and nothing works as good for business as the data-driven decisions. In this area, quality is, at the very least, as important as quantity. Superficial data won’t be able to create a cornerstone for a reliable business strategy capable of ensuring business growth. Nor the necessary optimizations essential for reaching sustainability.

This is the part when the technology enters. Smart metering, data science, big data, predictive analytics, forecasting, and other advanced analytics make sure that data-centric applications do their job in connecting the dots. Analytics and forecasting solutions help to identify both opportunities and risks, such as potential system faults, hardware failures, unexpected changes in energy demand. On the other hand, technology advances unlock chances for expanding renewable energy share in the general demand, creating new and reliable backup sources, introducing new devices into scalable systems, effective resource management, etc.

Those technologies also add great value in terms of optimizing processes and improving general efficiency performance. Lower costs, less time necessary to complete a process, limiting manual work – those are a few examples of adopting IoT, automation, and self-improving mechanisms, such as machine or deep learning algorithms capable of transforming huge data amounts into optimized processes and performance.

Now, how does all of this technology translate directly into increased sustainability? It affects various aspects of a company’s performance. Offices and industrial units consume less energy. Processes take less time and work and reach the finalization faster, which results in a lesser amount of resources consumed and money saved. Instead of using fossil fuel energy, industries are provided with an energy mix enriched with a significant share of the clean energy acquired from renewable resources. DER systems become a part of the national grid supply and back up power source. Thanks to fault-tracking, monitoring, and predictive maintenance, industrial and commercial components have considerably longer life cycles, which leads to a reduced amount of waste. Not to mention that increasing energy and operation efficiency results in a limited carbon and water footprint, lower emissions, and decreased harmful effects on the environment.

Transition affects the energy and utilities industry in particular since the energy business is one of the leaders in technology investments. Solar and wind energy take the lead in the last years, making technological progress even more rapid. The role of software in the energy transition gained in importance. The transition has been enhanced, companies not only form the energy industry are capable of reaching their sustainability goals much faster.

How technology solutions drive sustainability

This paragraph could take a full-length industry report on environmental-focused technological solutions. Instead, let’s focus on the primary areas that cover technological demand dedicated to sustainability goals.

Starting with an essential issue that is clean energy generation, undoubtedly, this is the area where technology plays the main role. The effective harnessing of renewable energy evolves almost in year-to-year time spans. In terms of materials, hardware, and software used by energy companies, technological progress is impressive. Solutions for the energy and utilities industry act as accelerators for the general efficiency increase of the end-to-end process in energy management. Better hardware and good quality material enable the performance of solar/photovoltaic panels even in areas with a minor amount of sunny days or boost the durability of windmills, reducing the number of malfunctions. Optimized software makes comprehensive process management easy and available, supporting predictive maintenance of hardware as well. All that increases the share of renewable energy in the energy mix both locally and globally.

Not only energy generation benefits from technological advances but also energy storage and distribution. High connectivity and IoT solutions unlocked unprecedented capabilities of small energy sources based on renewables. DERs (distributed energy systems) are registering an increasingly wider appeal and becoming more common every year. From HVAC installations through residential energy storage, like popular smart batteries for households, DERs are being widely incorporated into the national grids as a reliable backup power source and a supply of clean energy surplus. Even electric vehicles that, some would say, are the future of the automotive industry, apart from lower emissions, can serve as DERs due to applications and operational platforms enabling the overall management of the energy flow within a local or a national grid. As parts of the demand response programs, all these devices and vehicles create a modern extension of the electrical grid as we know it from the past.

These additional sources of clean energy and efficient, scalable energy storage have a stimulating impact on the evolution of energy systems on a local, national, and global levels. Gaining popularity by virtual power plants (VPPs) provides the facility of distributing and managing energy processes, starting with its generation through storage, distribution, up to its consumption by the end-user.

Consumers are offered sustainability for their homes, transport, and workplaces. And that’s only the ‘energy’ part of boosting sustainability with technology. Software, in particular, is a universal technology, adaptable for every industry. A variety of optimization and automation solutions like applications, systems, platforms are tools that support process management efficiency. Every time, work, cost, or material reduction is a gain for companies in strategic and environmental performance. With shorter processing time, industries will consume less energy. Maximizing the efficiency of the same process will limit the waste, save resources, time, and, as the end result, money. All the dots are connected, as sustainability starts with a clean energy source, but it ends with the final idea of ultimate efficiency optimization.

* UN, World Economic And Social Survey 2018: Frontier Technologies For Sustainable Development, 2018, p.39

Author: Joanna Wroniak, Codibly

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