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RFID and Global Warming

The same technology used to increase operational efficiencies can also save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
By Leslie Downey
Electronic Toll Collection
Electronic toll collection (ETC) systems reduce idling and emissions. Solutions such as E-ZPass and I-Pass employ radio frequency identification. They save millions of tons of CO2 that would have otherwise been emitted by vehicles waiting to enter toll gates. The E-ZPass system reduced delays on the New Jersey Turnpike for all vehicles by 85 percent, saving an estimated 1.2 million gallons of fuel each year, while also eliminating approximately 0.35 ton of volatile organic compounds and 0.056 ton of nitrogen oxides per weekday. A 2001 ETC pilot project conducted by the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) on just one bridge—the Carquinez Bridge, located in Vallejo, Calif.—showed savings of 55,525 gallons of fuel within one year, as well as 9.8 metric tons of CO2, 1.06 metric tons of nitrogen oxide and 0.46 metric ton of hydrocarbons.

Automatic Vehicle Identification Parking
Employee parking garages equipped with automatic vehicle identification (AVI) systems save time, fuel and emissions. Instead of stopping to insert a magnetic stripe card into a reader, and then sometimes waiting in morning queues, AVI users, equipped with RFID-enabled cards inside their vehicles, can simply drive through the gates. TransCore, an AVI system vendor, estimates that an AVI-enabled parking garage containing 500 cars saves about 275 employee hours annually, along with 5,480 pounds of CO2.


RFID-enabled building-management systems conserve fuel and electricity. Commercial, public and residential buildings within the United States contribute approximately 40 percent of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions. Intelligent systems using RFID and wireless sensors enable dynamic and granular control of a building's heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, thereby saving energy and emissions. The Global e-Sustainability Initiative has estimated that in 2020, buildings will emit 11.7 gigatons of CO2 worldwide, equivalent to 22.5 percent of total emissions. It has also estimated an information and communications technology-enabled abatement potential of 1.68 gigatons of CO2, of which a reduction in HVAC consumption accounted for 8 percent.

What's more, in order to facilitate home energy management, companies are currently developing products that utilize ZigBee-compliant RFID technology to enable communication between such household devices as thermostats and lighting controllers, as well as smart meters, so that usage can be shifted to off-peak times.


"Intelligent cities" will save time and gigatons of CO2. Cities abound with current and potential applications of radio frequency identification conserving energy. One example is traffic lights equipped with RFID and congestion sensors. Another is RFID-based parking-management systems allowing more precise tracking of parking availability on streets and in garages. Having this kind of granular data enables not only real-time decisions, but also better planning of new facilities and improvements.

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