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#6 Silicon Valley Going Green – Digital Technologies: a Key to the Green Transition

A key to fighting today’s climate problems is tomorrow’s innovation. This week’s ‘Going Green’ article provides an overview of some of the major technological developments that are happening today – and expected to happen in the future – and how they are working to fight against climate change.

Silicon Valley is considered the most innovative tech hub in the world, well-known for its innovative companies developing new emerging tech solutions focused on communication and digital technology advancement. A multitude of these solutions have gradually moved into our homes and lives: The robotic vacuum cleaner, the chat-bot, the voice assistant, the curated news, the smart watches, the transportation platforms. But these new data-driven technologies have the potential to do more than counting your steps and cleaning your floor.

In recent years, data in large volumes has become readily accessible through new sensor technologies, satellite data and drones, making the data collection quick and inexpensive. This opens new opportunities to utilize technologies like artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and blockchain in combination with drones, high-speed internet and more to identify and accelerate climate solutions. Such technologies can help measure, understand, evaluate challenges and make forecasts, enabling decision makers to make informed policy choices, while also enabling the automation of responses, optimizing the use of resources and providing the smart and coupled infrastructure for responses at scale. Digital technologies can also drive behavioural change, enabling individuals to understand their carbon footprint and act to reduce it.

According to a study conducted by a group of researchers, AI is estimated to have the potential to enable the fulfilment of 93% of the environmentally Sustainable Development Goals targets. 

Tackling Climate Change With Machine Learning:

A recent study by researchers at leading AI institutions such as Stanford University, Google AI and Microsoft Research has identified 13 industries where ML could have a significant impact:

  • Electricity systems
  • Transportation
  • Buildings and cities
  • Industry
  • Farms and forests
  • CO2 removal
  • Climate prediction
  • Societal impacts
  • Solar geo-engineering
  • Individual action
  • Collective decisions
  • Education
  • Finance



An Ecosystem in Support of Climate Tech Solutions

New innovative start-ups are demonstrating how new emerging tech can play an important role in mitigating and adapting to climate change, such as increased energy efficiency in consumer goods and industry, climate predictions or material optimization. Silicon Valley’s thriving ecosystem of academic institutions, venture capital, entrepreneurs and innovative corporations has a unique capacity to accelerate this innovation.


Tech Companies Supporting Tech Solutions for Climate Change

Google hosts the Google AI Impact Challenge – an open call for projects on how to use AI to solve social and climate related challenges. The program has provided twenty organizations with a total of 25 million USD in grant funding from, coaching from Google’s AI experts, credit, consulting from Google Cloud and inclusion in a six-month Google Developers Launchpad Accelerator. Microsoft launched the Microsoft AI for Earth program, which awards grants and support to researchers and innovators dedicated to solving environmental challenges using cutting-edge technology. The program will award 50 million USD over its five-year span, and more than 200 research grants have already been awarded. The call is ongoing and also open to Danish academic institutions, organizations and companies. You can read more about the program here.

The efficient ecosystem in Silicon Valley has already helped many companies taking off, and other new start-ups are on the rise. Below you can read about a few of the exciting solutions being developed in California that could help reduce carbon emissions for a broad range of industries.

The Downside of High Tech: Its High Energy Usage

While some high-tech solutions have the potential to reduce carbon emissions and help protect the environment, there is also a downside. The computational requirement for deep learning has proven to have a large carbon footprint. AI and machine learning work with enormous datasets, which can themselves have a significant climate impact. Some estimates suggest that the total electricity demand of information and communication technologies (ICTs) could require up to 20% of the global electricity demand by 2030, up from 1% today. Or, to put it into perspective, training one AI model could produce as much carbon dioxide as 150 round-trip flights between San Francisco and Copenhagen. Digital technologies are no panacea for all climate ills, and there is a need to consider climate tech solutions based on their lifetime impact, in order to create truly sustainable solutions. Understanding the impact of AI solutions and developing better implementation models will be an important part of the process.

Making AI and Machine Learning Models Energy Efficient

Example: Silicon Valley startup Cerebras claims to have built the largest computer chip ever to accelerate AI training. Linking processing parts in one large unit can, if successful, limit the power use normally associated with shifting data between tiny AI chips.

Silicon Valley has a knack for problem solving and an ethos of creating impact. With climate change, there are an abundance of challenges to meet, and digital technologies can and will play a central role in the integrated energy systems of tomorrow, as well as in the development of data-driven climate solutions, monitoring systems, models for behavioral change and much more. At Innovation Centre Denmark Silicon Valley, we stay up to date on the newest research and technologies and can assist in identifying technologies relevant for your company, organization or product.

This article was written by The Innovation Centre Denmark in Silicon Valley and is brought to you as a part of the ‘Silicon Valley Going Green’ series in collaboration with the Innovation Centre.