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BusinessDay: This is how AI is fighting the climate change battle

AI applications can help with the design of more energy-efficient buildings, expansion of energy storage and grid placement optimisation by incorporating solar and wind energy

By Johan Steyn, 10 November 2021

Nuclear war, climate change and technological advancements such as artificial intelligence (AI) are among the most serious threats to humanity. According to the UN Environment Programme, climate change affects 80% of the planet’s land surface and 85% of its population.

In the spirit of keeping your enemies close, I'm wondering if humanity can use one threat to combat another? Storms, wildfires and droughts caused by climate change can be predicted and mitigated using AI and digital tools.

The European Commission’s Destination Earth project aims to create a digital twin of Earth that can be used to track climate change and investigate potential solutions for slowing or reversing the trend. The programme seeks to determine whether global climate initiatives can be evaluated, tallied and additional steps to slow or reverse climate change can be decided.

To avoid a global disaster, the scientific, industrial, public and governmental sectors must work together. These difficulties were highlighted at the COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. According to a Business Day report from last week, a historic climate finance agreement for SA worth about R130bn contributed to the gathering’s promising start. Fortunately, Eskom was proactive in finishing the work ahead of time, and SA stood out from the crowd by presenting a concrete plan for discussion.

Human life and natural ecosystems must be protected from future climate change — according to the UN — by achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The 2021 summit focused on both infrastructure and agricultural development. We will be able to get a greater understanding of the natural world, climate, ecosystems, and human social and economic activities thanks to AI and data science.

Net-zero emissions will result in a 46% reduction in greenhouse gas, according to the International Energy Agency. Governments should place a greater emphasis on the positive environmental repercussions of emerging technology when investing in research.

AI applications could help with the design of more energy-efficient buildings, the expansion of energy storage, and grid placement optimisation by incorporating solar and wind energy. Electric automation technology can be employed in smaller-scale applications, such as automatically turning off lights when not in use, to send electricity back into the grid and assist in meeting anticipated demand.

Scientists studying climate change rely largely on AI in this era of big data. Using an innovative machine learning approach, scientists were able to locate over 100,000 academic publications on the effects of climate change. The researchers used satellite images to create a global map of climate change effects, which they linked to human-caused temperature and precipitation fluctuations.

We will be able to better understand how various climate-saving efforts from around the world may combine to form a more effective total by applying AI. The world’s first satellite of its kind, GHGSat was launched in 2016 as a high-resolution satellite capable of assessing air quality and computing greenhouse gas emissions at all industrial sites.

Satellites provide data to Earth regularly, which can help us understand how and why the climate is changing. By 2025, the worldwide datasphere will have transmitted over 175 zettabytes of data.

It is positive news to read that Eskom presented a good plan at the recent climate change conference. SA has the talent and technology firms to launch an inclusive plan by using smart technology to predict and avoid regional climate disasters.

• Steyn is the chair of the special interest group on artificial intelligence and robotics with the Institute of Information Technology Professionals of SA.


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