Microsoft unveiled its plans to launch the Global Renewables Watch yesterday at the 77th General Assembly of the United Nations. Launched in partnership with Planet Labs PBC and The Nature Conservancy, the platform uses artificial intelligence (AI) and satellite imagery to map renewable energy installations everywhere on Earth.
In addition, the company is working with Terra Praxis to help facilitate the transition from coal to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.
Around 15 billion tonnes of CO2 are emitted annually by the more than 2,000 gigawatts of coal-fired power plant capacity that are now in use worldwide. This accounts for about half of all carbon emissions.
“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges that humanity has to solve,” said Brad Smith, president and vice chairman of Microsoft, in 2021.
To move from climate pledges to climate progress and get to #NetZero, we all need be speaking the same carbon language. 🌏
— Microsoft On the Issues (@MSFTIssues) November 15, 2021
The Inflation Reduction Act 2022 seeks to lower inflation, make investments in domestic industry and energy production, and cut carbon emissions by around 40% by 2030 in the United States. Microsoft’s Global Renewables Watch is meant to help monitor the progress.
“Every company, country and community needs to data track their CO2 emissions and renewable energy sources,” said Smith.
Microsoft emphasises that their plans aren’t just pledges but progress to their current work to combat climate change by utilising digital data technology and AI.
What is the Global Renewables Watch?
Global Renewables Watch is a first-of-its-kind live atlas that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and satellite images to map and analyse all utility-scale solar and wind installations on Earth, enabling users to assess the progress of the clean energy transition and monitor trends over time.
So far, Microsoft has been mapping the use of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, across Egypt, India, Brazil, and Germany.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so by combining Microsoft’s AI and cloud computing capabilities, Planet’s comprehensive and high-resolution satellite imagery, and The Nature Conservancy’s deep subject-matter expertise, we hope to build a powerful platform for surfacing — and democratising access to — renewable energy data,” said Smith.
To address climate change, we all need to do more, faster. Microsoft is moving from pledges to progress by advancing the sustainability of our business, while providing digital tech to decarbonize and supporting infrastructure for customers to do the same. https://t.co/4Ir55Q74dt
— Brad Smith (@BradSmi) September 22, 2022
Four million images of the earth are taken per day using Planet’s satellites to observe and track renewable data over time.
The Global Renewables Watch aims to show countries’ renewable energy capacity, assist in understanding that capacity, and identify patterns about the potential impact of the siting of renewable energy on the landscape over time rather than at a moment in time. It has access to satellite data going back to 2018 and plans to update the atlas twice a year.
The Global Renewables Watch data will be open-sourced to the public as soon as feasible.
Keeping their own house in order
Within their company, Microsoft plans to achieve carbon negativity with a reduction of 50% by 2030.
The company started by installing geothermal wells which heat up 17 of their new buildings naturally and produce zero emissions. Instead of using gas cookers, they’ve completely transitioned to green electricity for all their cooking.
Microsoft has also added new features to Windows 11, where updates will be “carbon aware,” which means it will provide users with a choice to update when the demand for power is at its lowest, like on weekends.
Microsoft’s carbon and electricity policy
Microsoft is leveraging the new platform to promote other businesses and nonprofit organisations that require data technology assistance.
They offer concrete results with adaptable legislation while being conscious that many coal businesses will find it very challenging to make the switch to greener energy. Microsoft makes use of carbon reporting, removal, and reduction to achieve this.
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About 940 million people (13% of the world’s population) of the world lack access to electricity, much alone renewable electricity, according to Our World in Data.
To tackle this Microsoft is working to upgrade outdated electrical systems while tripling the number of electrical power plants globally; they hope to accelerate the transition to clean electricity, modernise and improve grid infrastructure and ensure an equitable energy future.
What are the challenges in transitioning to clean energy?
Terra Praxis, a non-profit organisation, has a “vision and roadmap to achieve clean energy transitions.” They are taking on the challenge to decarbonise and repurposing over 2,400 coal-fired power plants worldwide to run on carbon-free energy.
Microsoft is essentially providing the digital connections and data technologies needed to measure carbon emissions by collaborating with Terra Praxis to bring their vision of digitising carbon measurement data and transitioning from coal to cleaner energy.
Repurposing coal plants is a huge challenge as it would be devastating to close down existing coal plants, economies would collapse and put millions of skilled workers out of their jobs.
Brad Smith informs that the plan will not only “save (existing) jobs but create new better jobs” in the industry.
How is Microsoft planning to replace coal energy?
Terra Praxis provides the transformation to cleaner energy through nuclear technology with advanced heat sources like small modular reactors (SMRs).
To achieve this, standardisation of design is needed, along with a more streamlined approach that doesn’t significantly change the coal plants’ basic infrastructure.
Microsoft will supply the data technology bridge required to revolutionise the transition to cleaner energy while making it easier for businesses to measure their carbon emissions.
Coal companies can also faster deploy system data to observe and track their carbon data and lower costs overall when implemented correctly.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Microsoft introduces the platform Global Renewables Watch. Featured Photo Credit: Salvatore De Lellis/Pexels.