May 11th, 2019 by Steve Hanley
As the fight over carbon emissions escalates, many companies are making ambitious promises about reducing their carbon footprint. But how will we know if they keep those promises? WattTime intends to create a public database that will track carbon emissions from all the world’s large power plants using artificial intelligence. The project will receive $1.7 million in funding from Google.org.
“We received thousands of applications to the Google AI Impact Challenge and are excited to be supporting WattTime with funding and expertise from Google,” says Jacquelline Fuller, president of Google.org. “AI is at a nascent stage when it comes to the value it can have for the social impact sector, and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of this work and considering where there is potential for us to do even more.”
The tracking system will make it possible to hold polluting plants accountable to environmental standards as well as enable advanced new emissions reduction technologies.
Joining WattTime in the carbon tracking initiative are nonprofits Carbon Tracker, a financial think tank that analyzes the economic impacts of the energy transition and the first organization to pioneer satellite-based power plant monitoring; and World Resources Institute, a global research organization working to secure a more sustainable future. WRI maintains the most comprehensive global database of power plants in existence today.
The project will utilize the growing global satellite network to observe power plants from space. Using the latest image processing techniques, artificial intelligence algorithms will detect the level of power plant emissions. The data collected will combine information from a variety of sensors operating at different wavelengths. Thermal imaging will detect heat from smokestacks and measure the temperature of the water used to cool power plants. Visual sensors will record evidence of visible smoke.
“Far too many power companies worldwide currently shroud their pollution in secrecy. But through the growing power of AI, our little coalition of nonprofits is about to lift that veil all over the world, all at once,” says Gavin McCormick, executive director of WattTime. “To think that today a little team like ours can use emerging AI remote sensing techniques to hold every powerful polluter worldwide accountable is pretty incredible.
“But what I really love about better data is how it puts most companies, governments, and environmentalists on the same side. We’ve been thrilled to see how many responsible, forward-thinking groups have started using advanced data to voluntarily slash emissions without anyone making them.”
In its announcement of the new collaboration and funding from Google, WattTime says, “Accurate global emissions data has the ability to inspire everything from local environmental activism, to new and effective environmental policy, to verification that countries are achieving national-level emissions targets such as Paris Accord commitments. In their ongoing work, WattTime also plans to use the information to further enable and refine software that can give billions of internet-connected devices emissions reduction capabilities.”
“The more transparency we can provide for energy consumers around the world, the more likely we are to solve some of the monumental challenges facing our planet,” said Johannes Friedrich, a senior associate at WRI. “We believe this project will help bring the world one huge step closer to meeting urgent carbon reduction goals, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”