As we ring in 2014, it is time to look forward and define goals for the upcoming year. Having finally thawed out from my trip to Warsaw for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference, where progress continued toward a binding global agreement in 2015, I would like to focus on Qualcomm’s activities in the sustainability space.
We recognize that climate change is a serious environmental, social and economic issue that calls for concerted actions among all sectors of society. While governments around the world develop, enhance and continue their commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions—the United States included—global companies like ours are also innovating to address these challenges.
One way that we are re-thinking the future is through the Street Light Working Group, which Gina Clifford at WIRED recently described as “a large, diverse consortium of visionary leaders coming together around a common passion to create a blueprint for a cleaner, connected, safer and smarter region.”
In this group, we’re engaging with San Diego Gas & Electric, CleanTech San Diego, the City of San Diego, the University of California, GE and others to reimagine what functionality can be delivered by the connected street light infrastructure. Lighting is in a transformational stage as it migrates to power efficient digital technologies (i.e. LEDs), and we are supporting the industry’s desire to add robust communications to these assets, not only to allow lighting controls and assist in maintenance, but also to support the addition of numerous devices and sensors that may support monitoring of environmental considerations like air quality, enhance cellular service, provide electric vehicle (EV) charging and more. This regional collaborative initiative has the potential to reduce annual street lighting energy consumption by 60 million kWh, which equates to a reduction of 24,000 tons of CO₂ emissions and an annual savings to taxpayers of US$10 million in combined energy and maintenance costs.
That’s just one example of a project leveraging cellular technology to help create a sustainable city of the future. Others include smart grid programs, like the one recently awarded to Telefonica on their 3G/2G cellular network for the UK’s Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) efforts, or solar-powered trash cans that compact waste and communicate when they’re full, and parking meters that can accept mobile payments and also alert you to available spaces—helping reduce congestion and carbon emissions associated with driving around to find parking.
We’ve also been innovating in sustainability a little further from home. Enter SootSwap, a collaboration between Qualcomm Wireless ReachTM, Nexleaf Analytics, The Energy and Resources Institute New Delhi (TERI), the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Project Surya.
At a cost of approximately US$50 to $100 each, clean cookstoves are currently unaffordable for the estimated 3 billion people worldwide who depend on traditional cookstoves. However, registered carbon credit programs are beginning to provide financial incentives for reducing carbon emissions through the use of clean cookstoves. Estimates suggest that a family could earn enough money selling carbon credits on the carbon market to directly finance the purchase price of a clean cookstove within two to five years through a loan, but it is difficult and expensive to verify the reduction in carbon emissions produced by clean cookstoves, which makes it challenging to apply carbon credits to the use of improved cooking technologies.
To address this issue, the SootSwap system includes a mobile phone-based temperature-sensing application and a thermal sensor that connects to an Android enabled phone. Each time the cookstove is fired up, the temperature increase activates the sensor. This temperature data is then wirelessly uploaded from the mobile phone to a server, where the usage is remotely verified, thus making data available to carbon market investors as proof of reduction in carbon emissions and allowing for the direct transmission of money to the families using the clean cookstoves. The SootSwap application is in the process of getting field tested with 250 families living in villages in the State of Uttar Pradesh in India who have purchased clean cookstoves through bank loans and will be receiving US$1.80 to $4.00 per month for their use.
The benefits of this technology extend beyond the environment: of the estimated 4 million people who die annually due to household air pollution from cooking on traditional open fires, women are most affected. This is because women do most of the cooking in these households and spend more time indoors breathing in the toxic air caused by open fires. Millions of people could lead longer, healthier lives by switching to clean burning cookstoves, and projects like SootSwap enable people all over the world to reward households that switch over to less polluting routines by purchasing the carbon offsets generated by this transition.
I am enthusiastic about the opportunities that mobile technologies present for us to address society’s sustainability and health challenges. I hope that when I write about the future of sustainability at Qualcomm one year from now, these exciting innovations will pale in comparison to what is next.