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The Crucial Role of Intelligent Infrastructure

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Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its synthesis report, exploring the dangerous impact that climate change is having on our planet.

This presents a monumental call to action for businesses globally to put sustainability at the heart of their business strategies.


However, the Emissions Gap Report recently released by the United Nations reveals that current global business targets will only cut emissions by 5-10% by 2030. This is inadequate if the Paris Agreement goals to achieve a 45% reduction in global warming by 2030 and net zero by 2050 are to be realized.

South Africa, in particular, is set to have load-shedding for the next five years. Despite the government enacting policies accelerating towards a just transition framework, the country remains part of the top 10% of greenhouse gas emitters.

Private industries, as the largest energy consumers, are increasingly facing pressure to assist with the country’s energy needs while lowering their carbon footprint.

So, what is the solution?

A company’s assets, such as buildings, energy grids, vehicles, and industrial equipment, are key contributors to today’s sustainability challenges. Organizations can tackle this by building more intelligent factories and offices that are more energy efficient and reduce emissions. Digitalization, AI, and the Internet of Things can all help businesses develop these smart assets.

However, this alone isn’t enough. Businesses and policymakers must also ensure they are working together so that infrastructure and assets remain connected across the traditional boundaries of corporate enterprise.

Intelligent infrastructure = smarter energy consumption

There are several ways that intelligent asset management can make a difference to organizations, especially when it comes to reducing and managing energy consumption. The software can now accurately predict how much energy assets require, be it a water pump or a lighting system.

This ultimately means that companies can dial up and dial down energy requirements. For example, at IBM, the implementation of IoT and analytics across 190 buildings helped identify energy conservation opportunities, resulting in the avoidance of 3,400 MWh of energy and $356,000 in expenses. These savings are critical, especially amidst the current energy crisis.

Businesses can also utilize weather data to better predict their energy demand and reduce waste, ensuring they don’t purchase more power than they need. IoT data and AI, combined with proprietary and third-party geospatial information, can help monitor, predict, and avoid disruptions on the road.

This helps plot the most efficient routes and reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles. The benefits that can be reaped from more intelligent assets can have vastly positive impacts on everyday life, and the societal benefits are huge.

Investment critical to driving the green transition

To truly unlock the benefits of smart assets, investments must be made if organizations look to reap the benefits and decarbonize as quickly and efficiently as possible. Urgent areas for investment include power grids, which are a barrier to integrating renewable energy sources. Power grids are essential to the wider green energy transition journey.

Investment in civil infrastructure, such as buildings and transport, is also key to making the green transition at the scale and speed needed. Denmark has already made strides in implementing IoT sensors, AI, and blockchain for intelligent grid optimization.

Recently, EY began working with IBM to support the decarbonization journey in asset-heavy industries. At a time of economic turmoil, investment can seem like the last thing that businesses should be prioritizing. However, without the initial investment in sustainable infrastructure, the green transition will be hindered, and we risk moving further away from net zero goals.

Collaboration from all key players

It’s undeniable that intelligent infrastructure can help businesses, industries, and countries meet their net zero goals. Technologies such as AI and IoT can certainly enable smarter assets that can dramatically improve energy consumption.

However, the full benefits of smart infrastructure and assets can only be achieved by connecting them across the traditional boundaries of corporate enterprise. Harnessing the true potential for technology in the energy transition requires collaboration and investment across industry and government.

By Ria Pinto, General Manager and Technology Leader, IBM South Africa

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