Every little bit helps: Air quality monitoring network in Taiwan

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In recent years, environmental issues have emerged at the forefront of trending topics around the world, including key issues such as climate change, energy choices, ecological protection, and water shortages and power outages. However, the issue of air pollution is of the greatest concern to people, as it directly affects their health and wellbeing.

The Health Effects Institute of the U.S. released its new State of Global Air Report this year, which describes how air pollution affects the average remaining life of people around the world. According to the report, air pollution will shorten the average life expectancy of humans worldwide by about 1.8 years, which is of greater impact than that of cancer on humankind, so there is already a general consensus to improve air quality to protect people’s health.

Due to Taiwan’s geographical location, climate, development of heavy industries, and dense traffic, air pollution poses a serious problem, and people often report air pollution to relevant public agencies. In addition, due to the impact of various extreme weather events, earthquake disasters, and environmental issues, disasters are becoming more complex, so the country needs to have an early warning and response system for the relevant units to make informed and timely decisions before an event or disaster occurs.

To this end, the Taiwanese government has brought together the Environmental Protection Administration, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the Council of Agriculture, and the Academia Sinica to cooperate in the development and launch of the “Civil IoT Taiwan” platform.

By leveraging the Internet of Things, big data, and artificial intelligence technologies, Civil IoT Taiwan aims to promote in-depth digital governance in four major areas, including air quality, earthquakes, disaster prevention and relief, and water resources, and build various smart life service systems to help the government and the public face the challenges brought about by environmental changes, while transforming Taiwan into a “Smart Island”.

The Civil IoT Taiwan project, which has been promoted since 2017, has also invested a large amount of resources to complete the sensor station infrastructure under an inter-ministerial cooperation framework, and to expand tangible benefits through research and development, manufacturing, deployment and application, technology enforcement, and cross-disciplinary promotion, with the aim of improving air quality across Taiwan.

At present, as many as 13,000 micro-sensors have been installed, covering 111 industrial areas and science parks throughout Taiwan. The sensors can detect the adjacent areas of more than 80,000 factory plants; due to its high mobility, it can also be versatilely deployed to schools, hospitals, or other identified hot zones at any time if needed.

By providing timely warning information to local environmental protection bureaus and inspectors, they can take the initiative to track down abnormal areas and effectively enhance inspection efficiency. Today, residents in Taiwan can also learn about air pollution news directly from the news media in advance, or check the air quality changes in their location through mobile apps, so that they can close their doors and windows or reduce the time of outdoor activities in light of increased air pollution.

Taiwan air quality micro sensor monitoring network

In the past, when people reported air pollution problems, the pollutants would have already spread through the atmosphere, and by the time the inspectors arrived, the pollution might have dissipated, missing the best opportunity to find the source of the pollution. The air quality monitoring network will enable the government to turn from passive to proactive enforcement by identifying suspected sources of pollution through up-to-date data in areas with high pollution potential.

With the air quality data in hand, the type of pollution, emissions, time, and frequency of emissions, and even the past pollution records of the factory, no polluting behaviours can escape scrutiny. Over the past four years, inspection units have accepted more than 500 reports, imposed fines of more than NT$100 million, and recovered about NT$280 million in air pollution fees, so that unscrupulous manufacturers no longer take chances and take the initiative to invest in upgrading equipment and plants to meet legal standards.

By harnessing the power of technology to enforce the law, the program can assist in investigating the source of pollution and grasp unexpected accidents, and then respond to public complaints and provide timely environmental information. Through the adept use of data and information, the efficiency of response is greatly enhanced, and local governance is strengthened throughout the nation.

Air quality analysis and forecasting

It is local manufacturers in Taiwan who empower the government to perform well in gate-keeping air quality. The PM2.5 air sensor developed by ITRI is manufactured by Taiwan’s Vision Automobile Electronics and deployed by Green Ideas Environment Technology, a comprehensive end-to-end Taiwanese manufacturing chain.

The Taiwan-made air quality micro-sensor has a longer service life in high-temperature and humid environments and also incorporates temperature and humidity parameter compensation, which not only improves accuracy, but is also uniquely suited to local needs.

At present, the equipment is mostly deployed in industrial areas, places where people report complaints, sensitive spots in the community, and areas of dense traffic flow, etc. so as to ensure there are no blind spots.

In the past few years, we have assisted the Environmental Protection Bureau of Miaoli County in Taiwan to investigate many cases of factory violations and illegal open burning. The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) has also validated the satisfaction level of air quality micro-sensor data in each county and city, and then commissioned a third-party unit to compare the 72-hour sensing data by deploying mobile monitoring vehicles and the EPA’s PM2.5 automatic monitoring equipment.

The results indicate a data quality satisfaction rate of 97 percent, demonstrating the outstanding achievement of the Taiwan-made sensors. The ITRI has stated that none of the parts, chips, and communication modules used in this sensor are made in China, so it can be attested that from production and manufacturing, and assembly to maintenance, the end-to-end production processes are all completed in Taiwan, which serves to demonstrate Taiwan’s strong research and development capabilities.

Through the deployment of more sensors, relevant units can analyze and compare the monitoring data, develop a timely warning system, and inspect the source of pollution at the first sign of pollution, demonstrating Taiwan’s determination to protect air quality.

Installed micro air quality sensor

Through the deployment of a large number of microsensors, the Civil IoT Taiwan platform and the EPA collects this data which is then combined with spatial and temporal data to present the distribution of air pollution in a dynamic and visualized approach.

In addition to regional air quality real-time overview notifications, the system also provides air quality zone projections, potential analysis, and environmental images from measurement stations, among other versatile applications. The captured data, which is transmitted every three minutes, is utilized to enhance air quality forecasting capabilities, and develop high-precision air quality forecasting technologies.

For example, 3D visualization analysis leverages this data to enhance high-resolution diagnostic analysis techniques and improves the accuracy of the air quality forecasting system. The public can also understand the process and causes of air pollution through intuitive 3D motion images.

Taiwan environmental IoT sensors real-time air quality smart platform

Improving air pollution is a pivotal ongoing effort and an undertaking that concerns the health and wellbeing of both citizens and the international community, as well as the sustainable development of cities.

The first priority of air pollution improvement is to accurately grasp the causes of pollution, implement optimal management of various sources of pollution, and promote and practice environmental protection in school education, the public, and industry.

The Civil IoT Taiwan platform has spared no effort in building infrastructure and collecting data so that we can leverage big data monitoring to combat air pollution, improve national air quality, and do our part to protect the planet.

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