9 ways AI is enhancing sustainability for business

With Google announcing a new £19m fund for businesses using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to address environmental and social issues, edie looks at nine projects that have already delivered notable benefits for business.

Google has today (30 October) issued a rallying cry to the tech-savvy businesses of the world. The technology giant has launched a $25m (£19m) Impact Challenge, where organisations of all sizes can submit concepts for how AI can be used to alleviate and address key societal and environmental challenges.

“We’re looking for projects across a range of social impact domains and levels of technical expertise, from organisations that are experienced in AI to those with an idea for how they could be putting their data to better use,” a Google blog post reads. “Since 2005, Google.org has invested in innovative organisations that are using technology to build a better world.”

Successful applicants will need to consider feasibility, scalability and responsibility of the AI concept, and will gain access to the funding pool and credit and consulting from Google Cloud.

While Google wants to use AI – which is a branch of computer science that utilises intelligent machines to work and react like humans – across the areas of environmental science, healthcare, and wildlife conservation, businesses are already using the technology to transform efficiency processes and deliver savings across key environmental footprints.

Here, edie takes a closer look at the AI projects that are delivering on key sustainability aims for corporates. Be sure to click on the links for in-depth details on each project.

Google ‘taking AI to the next level’ to cut data centre energy use

Data centres are vast consumers of energy and are a real problem area for tech companies looking to reduce their energy use. Google is now allowing its AI system – rather than its staff – to directly control its data centre cooling system as a way of lowering emissions and energy consumption.

Google’s AI system was developed using the DeepMind research company and was originally announced in 2016. The system had reduced energy consumption at its data centres by 40%. Now, the company has taken its AI approach “to the next level” by allowing the system to implement its own recommended changes, rather than those made by employees.

United Utilities rolls out AI across entire network after slashing energy usage

Announced earlier this week, water company United Utilities is set to roll out an energy flexibility platform which incorporates AI to cover its entire water network, after a three-month trial generated energy savings of 22%.

Called HARVI and produced by Canadian technology firm EMGAIN, the AI platform works by monitoring and managing electricity demand and generation within pumps, motors and biogas combined heat and power (CHP) engines to optimise energy use. During trial periods, the technology was successful at detecting burst pipes and minimising the risk of water discolouration, alongside the aforementioned energy savings.

Aggregate Industries to reap rewards from AI-powered flexible energy platform

In June 2018, heavy building materials firm Aggregate Industries announced plans to cut its annual electricity bills and energy intensity by 10% by installing an energy flexibility platform powered by AI.

The Dynamic Demand 2.0 system designed by Open Energi, will cover around 30 bitumen tanks across eight of the company’s UK sites to optimise electricity use in response to fluctuations in grid frequency, wholesale electricity prices and system imbalance prices. An ongoing target is in place to install the technology in 48 of its UK asphalt plants, representing up to 4.5MW of demand flexibility.

Stena Line turns to Ail to boost boat fuel efficiency

Last month, ferry firm Stena Line unveiled what it claimed was the world’s first passenger boat that uses AI to determine the most fuel-efficient route. An AI platform, developed as part of a partnership with technology firm Hitachi, simulates different route scenarios before suggesting the optimal route and performance setup for fuel efficiency and emission reduction.

Stena Line has a target in place to reduce its fuel consumption by 2.5% annually. As it strives to achieve this aim, the company will use AI systems across its entire fleet of 38 ships by 2021.

Norwegian Air to cut CO2 emissions by 16,000 tonnes annually using AI

Last week, budget airline Norwegian Air revealed it was using AI technology to boost fuel efficiency on select flights – and would expand the use of the technology across its fleet. Trials of the technology proved promising, with each flight saving around 22 kilos of fuel.

The AI system is called Aventus Air and developed by Swedish firm AVTECH. The technology monitors wind and temperature information to enable pilots to alter flight paths to boost fuel efficiency. Once the data is collected, it is automatically sent to the aircraft’s systems, AI can optimise the flight path. If AI was used across Norwegian Air’s 160-aircraft fleet, carbon emissions could be reduced by 16,000 tonnes each year.

Anglian Water to boost onsite generation with AI-powered energy storage technology

In August 2018, water utility Anglian Water announced plans to install an energy storage system controlled by AI technology at one of its water treatment facilities, in a move it claims will increase the site’s solar generation by 80%.

The 60kW/300kWh storage device, designed by energy storage firm redT, will be set up at the company’s ‘pathfinder’ site in Norfolk to bolster the performance of its existing photovoltaic (PV) array from 248kWp to 450kWp. The machine can store enough energy to power the facility for at least five hours and will enable Anglian Water to store surplus power generated by the array for use within its own operations. The AI software will provide real-time balancing and energy flexibility services.

Global Fishing Watch makes waves as new sustainable fishing data platform

Unsurprisingly, Google is a trailblazer when it comes to AI. In September 2016, the tech giant unveiled a new beta technology platform that utilises enhanced data collection and transparency to promote and improve policies and provide the “world’s first global view” of sustainable fishing practices.

The Global Fishing Watch was launched in partnership with non-profit Oceana and satellite analysts SkyTruth to digest and relay more than 22 million points of information on shipping vessel activities across the global each day. It enables businesses and governments to examine data to digest vessel shipping habits, providing some much-needed transparency to supply chains.

Energy revolution underway for Isles of Scilly smart storage project

A £10.8m smart energy project testing how solar power, smart heating and electric vehicles (EVs) can be used to improve the energy system on the Isles of Scilly had its first batteries installed earlier this year, with more technology to follow.

In a bid to slash household energy use on the island by 40%, Moixa and home energy services company PassivSystems have developed smart control systems utilising the Internet of Things (IoT) to manage and optimise the batteries, heat pumps and water heaters for householders, using AI to learn their patterns of consumption and maximise savings. The system is due to launch in November and will help balance the supply and demand of the energy system.

Auto giants launch EV-sharing platform in China

In February 2018, Chinese ride-sharing firm Didi Chuxing (Didi) partnered with 12 automakers, including Geely Auto and the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance, to launch a new app-based, electric-vehicle-sharing platform.

The car-sharing platform will focus on vehicles that have proven safety and energy-efficiency track records and will predominately include electric vehicles (EVs). Didi will also work with other car-sharing firms and infrastructure operators to ensure that charge points and refuelling stations can match vehicle demand by integrating AI and autonomous network solutions.

A look ahead

Global management consulting firm McKinsey estimates that tech giants spent $20bn-$30bn on AI in 2016, with 90% of this spent on R&D and deployment

According to PwC, the global economy could see a potential contribution of $15.7trn from AI by 2030. The UK Government has recognised its far-reaching potential, setting aside funding for AI as part of a £1bn investment fund for cutting-edge technologies in 2017.

Projects are beginning to emerge that uses the technology to boost the productivity of supply chains in sectors such as fashion and mobility, while some research suggests that AI can be a powerful tool in unlocking progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

edie will soon by publishing an Explains guide, sponsored by Ditto AI, which will outline everything businesses need to explore, understand and consider when investing in deploying AI to boost energy efficiency and drive sustainability.

Matt Mace

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