COP21: What role does technology play in reducing climate change?

The curtain has just fallen on the World Climate Summit in Paris (COP21) with the signature of a deal that leaders say is the best chance to save the planet. This action against climate change comes as climatologists report Greenland’s glaciers are melting at a speed not seen since the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago.

On the sidelines of the event a range of providers and technology-focused industry groups discussed solutions they hope can help protect Earth’s under-threat ecosystems. Renewable energy, M2M, data analytics, smart grids, cites and smart transportation all have a part to play. We take a look at some of the leading innovations that they hope will make a difference.

Cutting air pollution

Air pollution is a serious and growing global problem: 87 percent of the Earth’s population lives where air is toxic. In addition, the UN Human Settlements Program says urban areas generate up to 80 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

To help meet this challenge, IBM Research announced expansion of its global Green Horizons initiative. This data crunching solution uses advanced machine learning and IoT technologies to deliver advanced air quality forecasting and decision support. It generates high-resolution 1km-by-1km pollution forecasts 72 hours in advance and pollution trend predictions up to 10 days into the future.

IBM has already reportedly helped Beijing reduce particulate matter emissions by 20 percent. The technology will also be used in Delhi, Johannesburg and other cities in China to cut pollution.

“Air pollution and climate change are global challenges that require stronger action by government and business,” said Bob Perciasepe, president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES). “To get to a clean energy future, we need accurate data about emissions, air quality and power generation. Advanced technologies can provide crucial insights about our impacts on the environment – today and in the future.”

In the UK, energy company SSE will use IBM technology to forecast power generation at its wind farms. The company is developing similar AI-based big data and M2M systems with partners in the US and Japan.

Going electric

Electric vehicles can play a key role in reducing air pollution and French automakers, Citroen and Renault both introduced new electronic vehicles, including a 16-ton all-electric truck with a 200km range. The truck is currently undergoing real world testing and is expected to reach market in 2020.

The sustainability of electricity generation was addressed by a number of new industry groups at COP21. Leading solar energy firms announced launch of the Global Solar Council. “Solar has a hugely important role to play in the international efforts to ultimately eliminate carbon emissions from the power sector,” said Bruce Douglas, GSC chairman. The group hopes to lobby governments to encourage solar energy deployments with the goal of providing 10 percent of the world’s power by 2030, up from 1 percent today.

Another energy-related NGO, Energy Unlocked also debuted at the event. The group aims to use technologies like smart metering, Internet of Things, storage, batteries, demand response, load shifting, and grid edge technologies to promote renewable energy use. COP21 saw the debut of the Sustainable Energy Marketplace, a platform that connects renewable energy projects with investors.

Business leaders including Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson and Mark Zuckerberg launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a new global clean energy research project investigating artificial photosynthesis that uses sunlight to create liquid hydrocarbons, which they hope can replace fossil fuels.

Energy storage

Technologists are also looking to develop energy storage solutions. One interesting recent development comes from Linköping University’s Laboratory of Organic Electronics, where scientists have created Power Paper – a new material that can store large amounts of energy. Like paper, Power Paper is made from a cellulose pulp, but the fibers are mixed with an electrically-charged polymer that is capable of storing energy. This cheap solution charges in seconds and the developers see it as backup energy storage for renewable energy sources.

There’s growing recognition of the need to foster good habits among energy consumers. Oroeco introduced a personal climate action app smartphone users can employ in order to track the carbon impact of what they do. This gamification of the problem should help people understand the consequences of their actions. “Governments can play a role in making our choices cleaner, but we also need incentives in the right places to nudge us towards cleaner choices on a daily basis,” said Oroeco CEO, Ian Monroe.

Businesses have an important role to play in reducing climate change. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moo remarked, opening COP21, “How we do business today will determine if we can do business in the future.”

Orange was an official sponsor of COP21 and is focused on reducing CO2 emissions across its business. For example, in December it announced a new partnership with Huawei to build highly energy efficient telecoms networks by 2020. They aim to reduce CO2 emissions per customer usage by 20 percent through network architecture, component and other infrastructure design improvements.

Read more about Orange Group’s commitment to the environment here, and take a look at how initiatives like smart cities can play a role in mitigating climate change.