How Digital Transformation is Spiking Action Against Climate Change

How Digital Transformation is Spiking Action Against Climate Change

Technologies like Artificial intelligence, IoT can play a huge role in mitigating climate change risks

Artificial intelligence is set to improve the efficiency of existing technologies and organizational activities. However, amid the concerns for moving to a greener and sustainable digital age due to climate change, artificial intelligence may not be energy efficient. In fact, in June 2019, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst released a shocking report, which revealed that the amount of power required for training and searching a certain neural network architecture involves the emissions of roughly 626,000 pounds of carbon dioxide. This implies that the neural network creates a carbon dioxide footprint of 284 tons that is five times the lifetime emissions of an average car.

Despite this startling revelation, one cannot deny the crucial role artificial intelligence plays in leading the digital transformation revolution. Digital Transformation acts as the differentiator for companies in the market. It helps businesses augment processes and productivity, deliver better customer and employee experiences, manage business risk, and control costs. Digital technologies like robotics, the Internet of things (IoT), cloud computing, and others are redefining the world and are continuously changing the way people live and work. Enterprises aiming for digital transformation tend to gravitate towards adopting these technologies as they help improve efficiency, develop new products and services, introduce new business models, and distort the boundaries between industries and lead to enhanced customer interactions.

Now climate change will act as the biggest driver to bring digital change. Though the pandemic outset of 2020 brought relaxation on global carbon dioxide emission when transportation was restricted, carbon emission isn't the only contributor to global warming nor climate change. For instance, as mentioned above, training an artificial intelligence model is not an energy-efficient process.

Though data centers store and relay the information we produce every day, while boosting a nation's economy; storing digital data in a physical space requires a consistent temperature ranging from 18 to 27 degrees Celsius, leading v to a high level of carbon emission. Same goes for supercomputers, which require massive cooling systems and energy requirements for carrying higher-order calculations and data processing. Consuming 3% of the global electricity supply and accounting for about 2% of total greenhouse gas emissions, data centers have the same carbon footprint as the aviation industry.

Even clouds can also add up to carbon emissions. According to The Guardian, when the music video Despacito reached five billion streamed YouTube views in 2018, the energy consumption was equivalent to powering 40,000 US homes a year.

The threat of climate change is far-reaching, which is why it will have a profound effect on every aspect of our lives and industries too. Simply planting trees or opting for a public mode of transportation would not suffice. Hence, the sustainability agenda is now finding place in the forefront and central roles in digital transformation strategy and in the minds of business leaders across a wide variety of sectors.

Meanwhile, though artificial intelligence has earned a bad reputation for its role in adding the carbon footprint, it also has valid use cases when it comes to studying and solving climate change. Some of the popular innovations include,

  • Google and DeepMind developed an artificial intelligence model that would teach itself how to use only the bare minimum amount of energy necessary to cool Google's data centers. This AI model helped Google cut the amount of energy it uses to cool its data centers by 35%.
  • SilviaTerra uses AI and satellite imaging to predict the sizes, species, and health of forest trees.
  • Green Horizon Project from IBM analyzes environmental data and predicts pollution and tests "what-if" scenarios that involve pollution-reducing tactics. This project helped the Chinese city of Beijing decrease its average smog levels by 35%.

Apart from these artificial intelligence can help smart cities develop wind channel architecture to create ventilation are ways to help cities deal with extreme heat. A Capgemini report states that AI-powered use cases for climate action have the potential to help organizations fulfill up to 45% of their Economic Emission Intensity (EEI) targets of the Paris Agreement.

Not only artificial intelligence, IoT based carbon emission monitoring via sensors can also help in this cause. Meanwhile, companies are taking well planned and greener initiatives to build data centers that are more energy efficient.

IoT and smart devices will enable energy networks and consumers to become more energy-efficient, for instance. E.g., using a smart thermostat Nest learns heating patterns of the house and automatically adjusts to save energy by 20%. Further, IoT sensors can be deployed in dams, reservoirs, and tanks to monitor the water levels in real-time and help in water conservation efforts.

In Singapore, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Asia Pacific (MHI-AP), along with Keppel Data Centers, is working on a unique floating data center park project that will be powered by hydrogen-fired turbines. If this initiative turns successful, the hydrogen used to fuel turbines will be extracted from fossil fuels using the steam methane reforming (SMR) process. The project will ensure the process is carbon neutral as the carbon capture and storage technology will be used to prevent carbon from reaching the atmosphere.

In Sweden, EcoDataCenter is the world's first climate-positive data center that is powered by 100% renewable energy and with digital technologies – making it as energy efficient as possible. With the power usage effectiveness ratio of 1.15 (versus the industry average of 1.6), this data center is proving future data centers can be efficient and sustainable.

DigiPlex, a Nordic data center operator pledged to reuse waste heat from its facility in Ulven, Oslo, to warm 5,000 apartments in the city. DigiPlex signed an agreement with a local district heating supplier Fortum Oslo to redistribute the heat generated by its data center, which is also renewably powered.

Even government pressure and consumer awareness can encourage automotive and shipping industries to prioritize their sustainability efforts while adopting digital transformation practices.

So, to surmise, digital transformation will enable dedicated action and continuous innovation that will help companies make a huge change across society. Business leaders can use this disruption to expand existing solutions exponentially and innovate in a way that creates even further decarbonization and mitigate climate change risks. They can plan strategies focusing on reorientation towards renewable energies and reducing their reliance on scarce water resources.

As digital transformation is transforming the global economy and uncovering powerful forces in every industry, it will also maximize its potential to build a sustainable future.

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