Enterprising South African companies are harnessing the power of the internet of things (IoT) and information communications technologies (ICT) to significantly improve the measurement and management of their carbon (CO2) emissions.
More have followed suit since the introduction of the first phase of the Carbon Tax in June 2019. This phase will run through to December 2022 to provide most heavy emitters of CO2 with an opportunity to adequately prepare for the introduction of the subsequent phase of the programme. The second phase will entail imposing a higher penalty on companies for emitting harmful carbon from industrial processes and through the combustion of fossil fuels.
The initial headline rate is R120 per tonne of CO2 or its equivalent, namely methane, nitrous oxide, perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. Businesses can realistically expect to pay between R6 and R48 per tonne of carbon dioxide, as well as other harmful gases that they emit into the atmosphere during this initial phase.
While the tax is a commendable initiative that is in line with best international practice, there are many facets of the legislation that require clarity. Nico Bezuidenhout, business development manager of First Technology Group, says that this has made it almost impossible for companies to precisely quantify the costs of their carbon footprints.
“There is a dearth of accurate and reliable emissions data and the limited information that is available is seldom shared between organisations. Forward-thinking companies have been well aware of this risk since the Carbon Tax policy paper was published in 2013. Much of their focus since then has, therefore, been on finding effective ways of collating accurate data they need to measure emissions for mitigation planning. Following closely in the footsteps of their international counterparts, many South African companies also want this information in real-time to better inform their decision-making,” Bezuidenhout says.
This leading supplier of sophisticated IoT, Hosted Cloud-based technologies, as well as hardware and software solutions has been fielding an increasing number of enquiries from local companies as to how it is able to help them develop a robust solution to manage this risk.
The company’s IoT solution comprises smart sensors that are equipped with transmitters that can be installed in most industrial processes, such as mineral-beneficiation plants and factories, to automatically detect CO2 molecules. This information is then transmitted to a central country-managed repository where it is accurately recorded and corroborated using First Technology Group’s Blockchain technology. Meanwhile, the company’s Hosted Cloud-based solutions enable the efficient processing, analysis and visualisation of the wealth of information to better inform decision making.
First Technology Group’s international parent company has already established a strong partnership with some of the world’s foremost instrumentation, automation and control manufacturers to develop state-of-the-art IoT solutions. These comprise an arrangement of embedded devices that communicate via the internet and exclusively addressable standard protocols.
Notably, the company’s IoT solutions have been instrumental in enabling its international clients operating in, among other sectors, manufacturing, resources extraction, construction and agriculture to seamlessly transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or “Industry 4.0”.
South African companies are also set to undergo this revolution, a vital component of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” that aims to reindustrialise South Africa and raise its ability to compete globally.
Importantly, it is also aligned with those policies aimed at significantly raising the skills levels of the labour force. Industry 4.0 will be introduced in a responsible and phased manner by equipping the country’s youth with the skills that they need to operate in an era where connected machines have replaced mundane low-paying and unsafe jobs.
Many of the country’s mines have already started undergoing this transition. Sensors, actuators and cameras, among other instruments, connected to Cloud databases are being used to measure, analyse and actuate switches. Automation has significantly improved efficiencies and precision by eliminating human error, while raising safety levels underground and in beneficiation plants by removing workers from harm’s way.
Policymakers also understand the important role that these “cyber-physical systems” have to play in stimulating the development of new local industries that supply sophisticated services and products. These include genome editing; the development of new types of machine intelligence technologies; as well as the design and manufacture of unique materials.
They also make it possible to introduce new and novel approaches to governance that are based upon cryptographic methods, such as Blockchain. This is in addition to supporting the planned development of “smarter” cities that provide more efficient and cleaner services, such as transportation, for their citizens as part of government’s focus on improved spatial planning.
However, a major highlight of this digital and connected era has been the ability to monitor and control carbon emissions automatically and remotely to achieve new levels of environmental protection and compliance. This supports South Africa’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint as a signatory to the Paris Agreement.
“IoT has long been recognised as a powerful tool in the fight against climate change,” Badenhorst says.
“For instance, vehicle manufacturers and fleet owners are now able to analyse accurate data that is being collected in real time from smart sensors installed on exhaust systems and transmitted to their databases. Leading vehicle manufacturers and engine original-equipment manufacturers use this information to improve the designs of their cleaner engine technologies. This is a key component of many European countries’ drive to achieve carbon-neutral economies. Meanwhile, fleet owners in developed countries are able to remotely adjust the engines of their ‘connected’ commercial vehicles to optimise emissions. This is being done in the same manner that mines are now able to control beneficiation plants and energy utilities and independent power producers their combined-cycle turbines and micro-grids, among other examples.”
However, sound cyber security, high-speed internet connectivity and excellent technical support, other key focus areas for First Technology Group, are critical in these applications.
“South Africa is following closely in the footsteps of developed economies by penalising industries for polluting. It is expected to drive meaningful change in the country in the same way that this approach has done in other parts of the world. The ability to detect, monitor, measure and control emissions is now an imperative to the bottom line. First Technology Group stands ready to assist companies of all sizes design, implement and operate a real-time emission-monitoring tool,” he concludes.