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Could Big Data Solve Climate Change?

Could our use of data stop global warming?

29May

Climate change is not just something spouted by wooly hat wearing hippies anymore. The consequences are starting to become more apparent as we experience more natural disasters every year, consistently seeing increasing numbers of floods, droughts and rising sea levels. It is genuinely one of the biggest challenges that the world faces today and although there are some moves to tackle this, there is certainly more that needs to be done.

This is where Big Data can have a major impact not only in the future but right now. We have seen several projects that are attempting to make this a possibility, many of which have the added benefit of saving millions of dollars for companies across the world.

A prime example of this is FirstFuel, a Massachusetts based company who help companies and residential users prevent energy waste.

The idea behind this is that unlike other companies, they do not need to do any site visits or the need to install any additional sensors in order to conduct their surveys. It allows them to operate with considerably less overheads than other companies in the same area and this can then be passed on to reduce the price of their services.

All they need is the address of the building and access to the electric meter data. From here they can run the data through an algorithm and combine this with weather data and mapping systems to see where improvements could be made to the energy consumption.

A prime example of this is at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington D.C where they managed to save $800,000 in one year thanks to the company noticing that there were many areas where energy could be saved including malfunctioning fans within the car park.

Other projects are also utilizing Big Data for the greater good, such as Opower.

The idea behind this project is that people won’t necessarily decrease their energy usage for the greater good, but will do with peer pressure. Therefore, if they can see that their neighbours are already doing it. Through making the data of how their neighbour’s energy consumption compares to their own, people are then persuaded the make changes to their own energy usage.

Even some of the services that we take for granted, such as Google Earth, can have a profound impact on tracking the effects of global warming across the globe. Through this service combined with the Google Earth Engine, they have managed to compile all available satellite data from the past 40 years, giving a much clearer idea of how the changes have occurred within the environment.

Having the ability to track these kinds of changes combined with the millions of other data points within each region, such as average temperatures, weather conditions etc, it becomes possible to see what is causing each of the changes and why this may be the case.

The most important aspect of Big Data in terms of stopping and identifying Big Dat is that the data needs to actually be available for people to see in the first place. In this case the Data.gov site is having a massive impact, giving companies information on almost every single weather, climate and industrial change since the 1960’s. Having this data as an open and searchable archive means that historical models can be built and predictive models can be created from it.

With the sheer volume and variety of the data available it is also possible to see why something happened and what could have potentially caused it or prevented it. This could be anything from an increase in the number of fences erected that year to the country’s demand for corn decreasing. Being able to model each of these changes against each other means that the consequences of each becomes apparent and can therefore be either avoided or increased in the future.

As Sun Tzu told us “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand” and the key to effectively fighting climate change is not going to be aimlessly trying things, but instead understanding what is causing it and why. Big Data has a huge part to play in this and we have seen that there is certainly an impetus to use it for this. In future let’s hope that this comes to fruition.  

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