According to the UN Secretary-General, the planet is nearing the “point of no return,” which, if passed, will trigger the irreversible collapse of key components of the Earth’s climate.1 Weather will be more unpredictable and severe, with storms, heat waves, hurricanes, and floods being more frequent and intense. We will lose biodiversity, suffer from water and food shortages, and huge numbers of people will become displaced. The need to combat climate change is now more urgent than ever.
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The transportation and energy sectors are key contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021, the US transportation sector contributed almost a third (28%) of all greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for the largest share of emissions. Global emissions from energy rose by 0.9% in 2022, reaching an all-time high of 36.9 billion tonnes.2 Emissions from these sectors show no signs of slowing, which is crucial, given how close the world is to the tipping point.
Significantly reducing emissions from the transportation and energy sectors will be an important step in addressing climate change. It will also help to spur economic growth and job creation thanks to the need to develop and implement clean technologies and renewable infrastructure.
Google is taking action to help the world reduce transportation and energy emissions. The company has made a commitment to developing technology to help individuals, organizations, and cities make informed choices that will contribute to reducing global emissions. Here, we look at those technologies in detail.
Google has launched Project Green Light, an initiative that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to improve traffic flow at intersections by optimizing traffic lights. According to recent data, the average wait at a traffic light is 18 seconds; this equates to 28 million metric tons of CO2 emissions annually. Reducing the number of stops cars make at red lights can bring down these emissions.
Green Light is already active in 12 cities across four continents, where a total of around 30 million car journeys will benefit each month. Initial data from the projects predicts that stops at traffic lights will be reduced by up to 30%, and emissions will drop by around 10%. In 2024, the project will be expanded to many more cities across the globe.
Another way Google is helping to use information to reduce the environmental footprint of transportation is by helping people get from A to B more sustainably. Already, the company has roped out fuel-efficient routing in its Google Maps application in the US, Canada, Europe, Egypt, and recently, in India and Indonesia, where the company also provides information on fuel-efficient routes for two-wheeled vehicles.
Since its launch in 2021, the project is estimated to have prevented over 2.4 million metric tons of CO2e emissions, which is equivalent to removing half a million fossil fuel-powered cars off the road.
Additionally, Google is also helping people to gain deeper insights into electric vehicles in Search. As electric vehicle-related searches have rapidly increased, Google has recognized the benefit of helping people to better understand these vehicles so they can make informed choices on purchasing them. Google Search is helping people to better understand the costs of electric versus fuel-based cars and access information on federal government incentives for qualifying vehicles.
Finally, Google is helping to decarbonize aviation by aiming to reduce contrails (the white lines that tail behind the aircraft, which contribute to 35% of the global warming impact of the aviation sector). Google has partnered with American Airlines and Breakthrough Energy to leverage AI to predict where contrails will form, allowing them to decipher how planes can avoid making them. A trial run resulted in a reduction of contrails by 54%.3
Advancing Clean Energy
Google is also helping to reduce the emissions of the energy sector in three ways. First, it is enhancing search experiences so that people can access information on sustainable energy options for the home in an easier-to-digest way. Google has updated its Search experience to display energy efficiency information and financial incentives when searching for related terms.
The intricate planning processes involved in transitioning to clean energy alternatives can be challenging. To address this, Google has partnered with Tapestry to provide AI-powered grid mapping and planning solutions. This collaboration aims to assist governments and businesses in efficiently modeling various clean energy scenarios.
Finally, Google has introduced a new feature in Google Earth to help cities incorporate solar energy solutions into urban development plans.
Google’s proactive initiatives underscore the vital role of leveraging AI in the pursuit of a sustainable future. By harnessing the power of information, Google has paved the way for innovative solutions to combat emissions, showcasing the potential of technology in addressing challenges posed by the world’s largest polluters. These efforts stand as a testament to the transformative impact of AI, illuminating a path toward a cleaner and greener planet for generations to come.
References and Further Reading
- Climate crisis past point of no return, secretary-general says, listing global threats at General Assembly consultation on ‘our common agenda’ report | UN press (2022) United Nations. Available at: https://press.un.org/en/2022/sgsm21173.doc.htm (Accessed: 12 October 2023).
- (2021) Sources of greenhouse gas emissions | US EPA - US environmental ... Available at: https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions (Accessed: 12 October 2023).
- Kate Brandt (2023). New ways we’re helping reduce transportation and energy emissions [online]. Google. Available at: https://blog.google/outreach-initiatives/sustainability/google-transportation-energy-emissions-reduction/ (Accessed: 12 October 2023)