Google and Carbon Tracker to use AI to track emissions from world’s power plants

    A $1.7m Google grant will see satellite imagery used to track emissions from the world’s largest power plants

    A new project is set to ensure anyone with an internet connection can track carbon emissions from the world’s largest power plants, monitoring in real-time their contribution to a warming planet.

    On Monday leading sustainable investment Carbon Tracker revealed plans to use satellite imagery to quantify carbon emissions from all large power plants worldwide, thanks to $1.7m in grant funding from Google AI Impact Challenge.

    The scheme aims to hold power plants accountable to environmental standards and boost the effectiveness of advanced emissions reduction technologies.

    The project will be run in collaboration with tech non-profit Watt Time and the World Resources Institute (WRI), which maintains the world’s most comprehensive Global Database of Power Plants.

    AI technology will use the latest image processing algorithms to detect signs of power plant emissions, drawing on multiple indicators to identify them. These range from thermal infrared technology to detect heat near smoke stacks and cooling water intake to visual spectrum recognition, which registers that a plant is emitting smoke.

    The technology will then use the indicators to measure carbon emissions from each plant, and make the resulting data available to the public.

    “Carbon Tracker was the first organization to pioneer satellite-based power plant monitoring,” said Matt Gray, head of power and utilities at Carbon Tracker. “We are excited to continue this innovative analysis in collaboration with our colleagues at WattTime and the WRI.”

    The project will be led by Watt Time, a San Francisco-based non-profit which has pioneered techniques to enable smart devices to adjust the time of their energy use to sync with clean energy generation and avoid dirty energy.

    “Far too many power companies worldwide currently shroud their pollution in secrecy. But through the growing power of AI, we’re about to lift that veil all over the world, all at once,” said Gavin McCormick, executive director of WattTime.

    “The more transparency we can provide for energy consumers around the world, the more likely we are to solve some of the monumental challenges facing our planet,” added Johannes Friedrich, a senior associate at WRI. “We believe this project will help bring the world one huge step closer to meeting urgent carbon reduction goals, and we’re proud to be a part of it.”