Earlier this month, the US National Climate Assessment (NCA) released its fourth annual report on climate change. At the time, forest fires were decimating parts of California, so at least for some, the findings may not come as a surprise. The outlook isn’t pretty.
Climate change is not only degrading the natural environment. It’s now affecting communities and the economy. In the US alone, damaging weather conditions have now displaced thousands from their homes, as well as costing more than $400 billion since 2015. This impact isn’t only from the Californian wildfires, but the hurricanes that regularly batter the East coast.
People in rural communities, form around 15% of the US population. They are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change, as crop harvests suffer from extremes of weather. However, the NCA report highlights how people in urban communities also suffer from climate change damage. Current urban infrastructure standards don’t consider future climate trends, which is expected to cost the US government $3.9 trillion by 2025.
Human advancements in industry and technology over previous decades and centuries may have contributed heavily to where we are today, but technology is now also helping to turn things around. Many startups are developing innovative solutions to address the challenges of climate change using emerging technologies including blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things.
Decentralizing Sustainable Energy
In general, our energy grids are built on aging and highly centralized infrastructure. Power is generated in plants at remote locations and delivered via many different system operators to the places where it’s needed. This model has been in place for decades, but it isn’t sustainable.
The effects of the Aliso Canyon gas leak in southern California in 2015 ripple on today, with costs estimated to be around $1 billion. Thousands were evacuated after complaining of symptoms including headaches and nosebleeds. High-profile incidents with nuclear power stations such as Chernobyl or Fukushima have had a devastating impact on public health and the environment. However, we remain dependent on these power stations for energy.
Renewable energy sources provide a solution, but they are currently not managed sustainably. Eloncity is a Singapore-based company with a big ambition to change the way we generate, store and trade power. The company is developing a comprehensive solution based on blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, and battery energy storage systems that aims to promote the use of sustainable, renewable energy sources.
The concept is based around the idea of “microgrids,” an energy grid based around a community. Individuals who generate renewable power such as solar or wind can store it in battery cells and trade it on the Eloncity decentralized network. Eloncity is also aiming to operate these microgrids using a direct current (DC) electricity flow, which will significantly reduce the costs of energy due to the efficiencies gained eliminating the conversion of AC to DC power.
Energy traded over the Eloncity network will be transacted in the native cryptocurrency token, called ECT. AI algorithms will determine a fair price for the trade based on the availability of energy. Therefore, the value of the ECT token itself will derive its value from the power traded on the network itself.
Eloncity is the brainchild of the AI Grid Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Singapore. The company has secured $20 million in capital investment and is aiming to launch the first microgrids starting in 2019.
Decentralized marketplaces are a recurring theme in environmental startups. Another company, Veridium, is using blockchain to build a decentralized platform for carbon credits. In addition to allowing businesses to trade carbon credits among themselves, companies using Veridium will have access to a carbon calculator which helps them to quantify their carbon footprint.
This simple tool removes a substantial barrier for businesses in using carbon credits, as calculating carbon credits creates an administrative burden that can be off-putting off many companies.
Artificial Intelligence in Water Management
Water scarcity is another environmental concern and one that utility operators have to tackle on a daily basis. The United Nations estimates that more than 700 million people across 43 countries live in water scarcity today. Emagin is a Canadian technology company that is using AI to help manage this problem.
The company has developed an AI platform it calls HARVI – Hybrid Adaptive Real-Time Virtual Intelligence. It allows a utility company to replicate its physical infrastructure into the cloud. Then, the HARVI algorithm will perform real-time, data-driven analyses.
Emagin provides a monitoring dashboard and virtual assistant that helps operators to predict how their infrastructure will perform under various scenarios. This helps to anticipate maintenance needs and minimize outages and downtime.
Increased Energy Efficiency with IoT Connectivity
Internet-of-Things (IoT) is already starting to help households manage their energy consumption. Ecobee offers IoT-connected thermostats which allow home users to heat or cool their homes on a room-by-room basis. With these thermostats connected to Amazon’s Alexa robot or Apple’s Homekit, users can make adjustments from anywhere, decreasing their energy costs by up to 23%, according to Ecobee.
WattTime takes the concept of the smart thermostat and expands on it, by allowing homeowners and enterprises to select the cleanest source of energy from a range of suppliers in real-time. Users install the WattTime program on any of their smart devices – thermostat, TV, any smart device. The program uses data analytics to select the energy source. The benefit of WattTime is that it creates a more competitive market for clean energy and allows clean energy suppliers access to a greater range of consumers.
Fighting Climate Change, with One Startup at a Time
Government and environmental agencies are the ones officially tasked with reversing climate change. However, they are often hampered by the scale of the issue, and the challenge of meeting mandated targets. While climate change is a vast topic, it’s important to remember that many of the problems can be tackled at the grassroots level.
Startup companies like the ones listed are bringing real innovation to our life. With emerging technologies becoming more widely available, smaller companies have an unprecedented capability to enable change. It’s vital that we support and nurture these initiatives if we are ever to reverse the damage caused by climate change.