This report was presented to the Working Party on the Information Economy (WPIE) in June 2009 and declassified by the Committee for Information, Computer and Communications Policy in October 2009. The report has been prepared by Verena Weber, consultant, in conjunction with the OECD Secretariat as part of the WPIE’s work on ICTs and the environment, under the overall direction of Graham Vickery, OECD Secretariat. It contributed to the OECD Conference on “ICTs, the environment and climate change”, Helsingør, Denmark, 27-28 May 2009, and is a contribution to the OECD work on Green Growth. For more information see www.oecd.org/sti/ict/green-ict. This report was also released under the OECD code DSTI/ICCP/IE(2009)4/FINAL.
Sensors and sensor networks have an important impact in meeting environmental challenges. Sensor applications in multiple fields such as smart power grids, smart buildings and smart industrial process control significantly contribute to more efficient use of resources and thus a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other sources of pollution.
This report gives an overview of sensor technology and fields of application of sensors and sensor networks. It discusses in detail selected fields of application that have high potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reviews studies quantifying the environmental impact.
The review of the studies assessing the impact of sensor technology in reducing greenhouse gas emissions reveals that the technology has a high potential to contribute to a reduction of emissions across various fields of application. Whereas studies clearly estimate an overall strong positive effect in smart grids, smart buildings, smart industrial applications as well as precision agriculture and farming, results for the field of smart transportation are mixed due to rebound effects. In particular intelligent transport systems render transport more efficient, faster and cheaper. As a consequence, demand for transportation and thus the consumption of resources both increase which can lead to an overall negative effect.
This illustrates the crucial role governments have to enhance positive environmental effects. Increased efficiency should be paralleled with demand-side management to internalise environmental costs. Further, minimum standards in the fields of smart buildings and smart grids in regard to energy efficiency can significantly reduce electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, this report also highlights that applications of sensor technology are still at an early stage of development. Government programmes demonstrating and promoting the use of sensor technology as well as the development of open standards could contribute to fully tap the potential of the technology to mitigate climate change.