How the Internet of Things is driving sustainable
energy usage in business

Summary: Industries can drive down their carbon footprint by using the problem-solving capabilities of IoT. Urban Volt’s solar energy for business strategy, supported by Vodafone IoT, is one such option that appeals to those in both finance and ESG departments.

Colin Barrett, head of IoT, Vodafone Business Ireland, and Kevin Maughan, co-founder and chief executive, Urban Volt

This article originally appeared in the Irish Times on October 20, 2023.

The drive for sustainability in all aspects of life is one that is shared by individuals and businesses alike. In many cases we already know the solutions - but implementation can remain problematic in practice.

Colin Barrett, head of Internet of Things (IoT) with Vodafone Business Ireland, says the problem-solving technology supported by IoT can help us address myriad challenges around sustainability and energy efficiency.

The scale of this challenge is apparent when we consider that, worldwide, rapidly-growing cities already consume over 65 per cent of the world's energy and account for more than 70 per cent of CO2 emissions. “Ireland’s population is anticipated to increase to up to six million by 2036 and the numbers living in Dublin alone are set to increase by nearly a third over that period,” Barrett points out.

He says this increase in density in our Irish towns and cities means the importance to Irish society of efficient smart-city services, vehicle CO2 reduction, and addressing buildings’ energy consumption, is greater than ever. This is where Vodafone IoT and their key partners can play a crucial role.

Vodafone IoT can facilitate the movement for Irish enterprises from traditional petroleum-based vehicle fleets to electric vehicles to drive CO2 and fuel consumption reductions, Barrett says.

These initiatives are reflective of Vodafone’s own mission towards carbon reduction. “From a customer perspective, we have a 2030 global target to reduce our own customer’s CO2 usage by 350 million tonnes,” Barrett notes. “This will be largely delivered via Vodafone’s IoT services, including logistics and fleet management, smart metering and manufacturing activities.”

Vodafone’s IoT capability is also being applied in-house, helping to drive down the organisation’s own carbon footprint with smart energy metering across 65,000 sites, fuel tank monitoring for efficient usage, and automated buildings management.

“These kinds of initiatives not only help Irish businesses become more sustainable but can also help address the persistent challenge for businesses around energy costs, despite the recent stabilisation of fuel prices,” Barrett says.

Kevin Maughan, Urban Volt, and Colin Barrett, Vodafone, pose with large solar panels in a park.

Vodafone's IoT in action

One such example is Urban Volt, an energy provider that offers solar as a service to Irish industrial and commercial sites, supplying and installing solar panels at no upfront cost to the businesses and providing repair and maintenance. “We install the solar panels at no cost to the business, they just agree to purchase the power that they consume on a per kilowatt-hour basis for 10 to 20 years depending on the deal they choose,” explains Kevin Maughan, co-founder and chief executive of Urban Volt. The benefits are obvious: Irish businesses can move to a sustainable power source, reduce energy costs, and put power from these installations back onto the grid. Customers typically see between a 30 and 50 per cent reduction on their power costs. Maughan explains.

Smartphone showing infographs of of solar energy being used by a business

Urban Volt’s customer base ranges from large industrial sites to the SME sector. “Some of our larger manufacturing clients would be spending over €1 million on energy each year, so the energy reductions can be huge.”

Everybody wants to do the right thing in terms of using more renewable energy, but Maughan acknowledges the capital investment may be beyond many businesses.

“Solar installation is an expensive undertaking and a lot of companies would rather spend that money on growth of their own business - our solution means they don’t have to invest any capital and in fact it’s cash flow generative for them because there are immediate savings on the cost of the energy. It’s a win-win.”

Energy efficiency for business is an integral part of Vodafone’s IoT offer. It recently launched a pilot initiative with the aim of lowering energy costs for Irish SMEs. “Through sensors installed around the customer’s premises, such as air-con, lights, heating, power, electricity consumption can be monitored. This helps drive changes in behaviour, by alerting when energy usage threshold values are exceeded,” Barrett explains.

Maughan is effusive about the benefits that Vodafone’s critical IoT connectivity has for his company, allowing them to monitor buildings’ energy consumption for billing purposes, but also the performance of the panels in real-time.

“We monitor our installations for any kind of failures or underproduction or overproduction,” he explains. Vodafone’s IoT SIM cards allows Urban Volt to do this in real time without having to be physically on site.

“IoT allows us to run a whole suite of software in the background, monitoring and optimising the systems. If production is down, or lower than it should be, then we know immediately. We can send one of our technicians out to the site, to check the panels aren’t dirty or not working because of an electrical problem somewhere,” he explains.

“It’s always on and that’s the benefit of solar with us - if you bought the panels yourself and put them up, you wouldn’t have access to this real-time information.”

This connectivity is priceless, he says. “Utilising this technology to provide an unmatched service when it comes to solar energy; that wireless IoT infrastructure Vodafone provides for us is mission-critical for our business because when the service goes down, effectively there is the chance of lost revenue for us,” Maughan explains. “We need that reliability and that quality of service.”

Read more about how IoT solutions are transforming the way we live and work.

2023, "How the Internet of Things is driving sustainable energy usage in business", Irish Times, October 20. Available at: https://www.irishtimes.com/sponsored/2023/10/20/how-the-internet-of-things-is-driving-sustainable-energy-usage-in-business/

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