Power of AI to help understand global climate change goals

A partnership between Microsoft, Planet Labs and The Nature Conservancy will use AI and satellite imagery to map renewable energy installations from space

AI and satellite imagery is to be used to help create a ‘first-of-its-kind’ method to help recognise and understand renewable energy capacity country-by-country.

Microsoft Corp., Planet Labs PBC and The Nature Conservancy have announced plans to launch the Global Renewables Watch (GRW), a first-of-its-kind living atlas intended to map and measure all utility-scale solar and wind installations on Earth, allowing users to evaluate clean energy transition progress and track trends over time.

With initial mapping of solar and wind energy installations in Germany and India, as well as solar installations in Brazil and Egypt completed, the GRW is being built to serve as a publicly available renewable energy atlas with country-by-country insights into production progress and development trends. With access to satellite data dating back to 2018, and plans to update the atlas twice annually, the GRW aims to show countries' renewable energy capacity, assist in understanding that capacity, and recognise patterns about the potential impact of the renewable energy siting on the landscape over time rather than as a moment in time.

For this joint program, Microsoft is providing the AI and platform technology, Planet is contributing the underlying satellite imagery, and The Nature Conservancy is overlaying the subject-matter expertise to analyse the output. The first full global inventory is expected to be completed by early 2023.

AI coupled with satellite imagery to help build a powerful platform for understanding data

Current methods for tracking solar and wind energy projects globally are an immensely complex undertaking, cutting across countless jurisdictions and with much of the data held by private organisations. The GRW aims to provide this data by coupling AI with high-resolution satellite imagery and presenting it in a dynamically updated time series. 

"Each of the partners brings unique knowledge and value-add to this initiative," said Planet's Co-Founder and CEO Will Marshall. "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."   

"Global Renewables Watch, which is a result of collaboration between Microsoft, The Nature Conservancy and Planet, is exactly the kind of action we need to see," added The Nature Conservancy's CEO Jennifer Morris. “This will be a publicly accessible resource to help researchers and policymakers understand current capacities and gaps so that decision-makers can scale much-needed renewable energy resources in a responsible, nature-friendly way."

The partners will continue to map additional countries and are aiming to build awareness of the tool among those tasked with managing the world's clean energy transition in the weeks leading up to and during the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, taking place in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, from November 6-18.    

"The world needs access to data in order to make responsible environmental decisions, and the Global Renewables Watch will serve as a critical tool for understanding humanity's progress toward fulfilling the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and meeting the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all," said Microsoft VP and Chief Data Scientist Juan Lavista Ferres

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