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Californian non-profit to monitor emissions from all power plants globally

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WattTime, a non-profit organization based in California, uses AI to detect CO2 and greenhouse emissions. In the future, it aims to track air pollution emitted from every power plant in the world in real-time and make the information public.

The platform leverage data that informs us about the kind of energy it is powering and how carbon-intensive it is. WattTime has an AI-based  Automatic Emissions Reduction (AER) software, which lets any smart device automatically shift power to moments of clean energy, without any negative impact on the end-user.

As a subsidiary of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), a nonprofit “think-and-do tank”, it is playing a key role in the transition towards a low-carbon future.

With the aim of empowering people and governments to hold polluters accountable, WattTime plans to deploy its flagship AER technology on a global scale.

WattTime works closely with backers like the Draper Richards Kaplan (DRK) Foundation. Microsoft, Enel X, Boston University, Energate are some of its leading partners and the organization is joining hands with more energy and mobility companies, universities and other institutions on multiple projects.

“We use the most accurate data on past, present and predicted grid emissions available, but we’re already working on a way gain access to even better information” says Grace Mitchell, Data Analyst, WattTime, in an exclusive interview with Geospatial World.

Grace Mitchell, Data Analyst, WattTime

What are the major solutions that WattTime would offer in the coming years?

Automated Emissions Reduction (AER) is our primary technology solution, and one that we feel has immense potential. We aim to get AER to the end customer for free whenever possible. The software can be installed in any internet-connected device with the touch of a button in order to shift energy use from that device to moments of clean energy. With 22 billion smart devices expected to be active globally by 2025, the potential for massive amounts of avoided carbon emissions keeps us excited.

WattTime intends to track emissions from all power plants of the world using AI and IoT. How do you plan to deploy these technologies?

In a project announced this summer with support from Google, WattTime plans to use AI to estimate power plant greenhouse gas emissions for specific timestamps with a combination of frequently updated satellite data and historical emissions data at the power plant level. Our AI deployment will use public and proprietary satellite data as inputs, a Tensorflow framework, and compute/storage resources from Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

Power plant emissions are a key first step in generating high-quality marginal emissions rates, which enable our core technology, AER. Through AER, we can empower IoT devices to use energy when cleaner sources of power are online and cycle off when those high-emitting plants are on the margin and delivering power. In this way, AI is helping to make the use of IoT devices cleaner.

Do you think small satellites and easy availability of satellite launch options would prove to be a game-changer in monitoring emissions?

It depends on the sensors on the satellites. It would be useful to have images that update more frequently, but this service can be provided by most satellite data companies with satellites that are already in orbit. If there were enough satellites with sensors that have the ability to detect emissions at the power plant level, we probably would not need to use AI to accomplish this project. But I am not sure if that kind of sensor is feasible with today’s technology.

With the profusion of data and enhancement in analytics capability, do you think there is a need for more crowdsourced data and a public database?


WattTime believes that data (like the kind we work with) is the ultimate weapon in the fight against climate change and air pollution, and we strongly feel that making that information accessible to more parties who can leverage it is crucial to make significant progress. There’s no time to waste when it comes to climate action; those with access to actionable data and a way to put it to work should be putting our heads together daily, which is why we plan to make our global emissions data available to the public.

Since air pollution kills more people than lethal diseases like cancer each year, what do you think could be done to impart an objective, technology-oriented understanding of air pollution?

We know that emissions levels don’t just affect our future climate, they also affect the air we all breathe daily and the health of every person on the planet. That’s why we believe power plants (and big emitters in other sectors) should be scrupulously and honestly reporting on GHG emissions levels. Since this has been nearly impossible to enforce on a global level, we think satellite-based monitoring is a great alternative. WattTime is also involved behind the scenes on aligning marginal emissions rates with health impacts, as opposed to just emissions reduction so that the data we uncover can be used to address current global health concerns as well as climate concerns.

Also Read: Satellites to pinpoint greenhouse emissions and monitor pollution