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The "Internet of Things" Could Save 9 Billion Tons of Carbon

Networked smart devices could cut carbon by almost a fifth and create a $1 trillion industry to boot.

The humble RFID tag could be the homing device leading us to a new, much greener economy, argues a major new report released from the nonprofit Carbon War Room and AT&T, a company conveniently highly invested in the so-called "Internet of Things."

The report forecasts the current world of 108 million wireless connected devices and sensors growing by 23% a year over the next seven years to hit $948 billion annually by 2020.

Huge carbon savings come from seemingly little things done smarter: air conditioners backing the temperature off a few degrees in high-rise buildings in the summer, truck drivers taking the best route, container ships loaded a tiny bit more efficiently, or crops getting just the right amount of water.

In total, the authors say, the smart grid-enabled energy industry could save 2 billion tons of carbon by 2020, transportation another 1.9 billion, and buildings and farms, 1.6 billion tons each. That all adds up to 18.6% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2011.

The study was written in part to fulfill one of its own recommendations: the enormous, largely incomprehensible marketplace of machine-to-machine technology needs better marketing and performance data so people can understand its potential value. That many tons of carbon should be a good start.