The energy transition must come hand in hand with digitalisation. A twin transition it is called. However, the full of potential of new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) has not yet been fully exploited.
Consulting firm PwC’s report How AI can enable a Sustainable Future suggests that using AI for environmental applications has the potential to boost global GDP by 3.1 – 4.4 per cent while also reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by around 1.5 – 4.0 per cent by 2030 relative to Business as Usual (BAU). In particular, AI applications in energy (up to -2.2 per cent) and transport (up to -1.7 per cent) have the largest impact on GHG emissions reduction with water and agriculture still having an important role to play for the environment more broadly.
“Solutions to solve climate change must have two characteristics: speed and scale,” noted Aidan O’Sullivan, Associate Professor in Energy and Artificial Intelligence at University College London, during an online webinar jointly organised by the UK Science and Innovation Network, the British Council and UNESCO’s International Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence.
“AI embodies these two characteristics,” Mr O’Sullivan explained. “Any possible future is going to rely on renewables. However, as we double the installed capacity the costs fall but not fast enough.”
Here’s where AI can play a role. Moreover, AI applications can offer environmental benefits beyond GHG emissions, including impacts on water quality, air pollution, deforestation, land degradation and biodiversity. For example, AI can analyse satellite data and ground-based sensors to monitor forest conditions in real-time and at scale; AI could provide more accurate and localised early warnings of poor air quality and help reduce this burden.
Poland’s company Airly uses advanced data science technology and AI-based algorithm for air quality forecasting. For the founders, having access to accurate, hyper-local data about air pollution in the community is the first step towards comprehending the health risks and making improvements. Indeed, Airly cooperates with cities and municipalities that want to take effective steps to tackle the problem of air pollution and inform their inhabitants about the current air quality in their area. The Airly system is also a great solution for integration into Smart City infrastructures.
At the beginning of January, Żabka Polska, the owner of the largest chain of convenience stores in Poland installed a filter in the centre of Poznań that will clean more than 9,000,000 cubic metres of air in a month. The week before also the city of Gdańsk installed 35 Airly air quality sensors whose data will allow residents to monitor the level of pollution in every corner of the capital of the Pomeranian Voivodeship. At the same time, also Warsaw City Hall signed a contract for the supply of a comprehensive system for monitoring air quality to keep under control 165 locations in real time 24 hours a day.
“The construction of a network of sensors in Warsaw and the partner communes is a project highly anticipated by the inhabitants, as it gives them reliable information about the air quality in their communes,” commented Marcin Morawski, Director of the Air Protection and Climate Policy Office of the City of Warsaw. “This system is also extremely important for us, local government officials because in order to effectively manage the problem of air quality, it must first be thoroughly examined.”
In fact, webinar’s participants have all highlighted how AI can also help governments and policymakers take the right decisions in a faster time.
“[AI] helps also modelling social factors like consumers behaviours,” added Professor Gatis Bazbauers, from Riga Technical University.
Dr O’Sullivan agreed that power system providers have successfully used AI to analyse behaviours from homes to make recommendations on how to be more efficient, for example, by keeping the home at the right temperature.
“Energy, under a technological perspective, has impacts on geopolitics,” Dr O’Sullivan said. “Probably it is the sector that is most influenced by policy decisions. Where AI can play a role is by providing evidence for these decisions and creating scenarios.”
Thus, to unlock the potential of AI for the environment, awareness among citizens must be raised; digital infrastructure needs, like the access to AI tools and data must also must be addressed together with providing opportunities and training for upskilling and reskilling of workers. Finally, governments must help with targeted regulation and policy support.