IBM steps up research to help China meet energy and environmental targets

The Boardroom

by Duncan MacRae| 07 July 2014

Agreement with Beijing Government will transform approaches to air quality management.

IBM has embarked on a 10-year initiative to support China in transforming its national energy systems and protecting the health of citizens.

Dubbed 'Green Horizon', the project aims to push beyond current global practices in three areas critical to China's sustainable growth: air quality management, renewable energy forecasting and energy optimisation for industry.

Led by IBM's China Research laboratory, the initiative will tap into the company's network of 12 global research labs and create an innovation ecosystem of partners from government, academia, industry and private enterprise.

One of the first partners to come on board is the Beijing Municipal Government. Through a collaboration agreement, the two parties have agreed to work together to develop solutions which can help tackle the city's air pollution challenges. The collaboration will leverage some of IBM's most advanced technologies such as cognitive computing, optical sensors and the internet of things all based on a Big Data and analytics platform and drawing on IBM's deep experience in weather prediction and climate modelling.

D.C. Chien, chairman and CEO, IBM Greater China Group, said: "China has made great achievements and contributed much to the world's economic growth over the past 30 years. It now has an opportunity to lead the world in sustainable energy and environmental management.

"While other nations waited until their economies were fully developed before taking comprehensive action to address environmental issues, China can leverage IBM's most advanced information technologies to help transform its energy infrastructures in parallel with its growth."

Global urbanisation is creating air quality challenges for all major cities around the world. In China, where cities have been the engines of much of the country's economic growth over the past decade, the government has launched the "Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan" as it moves to safeguard the health of approximately 700 million people living in urban areas.
The city of Beijing will invest more than $160bn to improve air quality and deliver on its target of reducing harmful fine Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) particles by 25% by 2017. To support the initiative, IBM is partnering with the Beijing Municipal Government on a system to enable authorities to pinpoint the type, source and level of emissions and predict air quality in the city.

IBM's cognitive computing systems will analyse and learn from streams of real-time data generated by air quality monitoring stations, meteorological satellites and IBM's new-generation optical sensors - all connected by the internet of things. By applying supercomputing processing power, scientists from IBM and the Beijing Government aim to create visual maps showing the source and dispersion of pollutants across Beijing 72 hours in advance with street-scale resolution.

With accurate, real-time data about Beijing's air quality, the government will be able to take rapid action to address environmental issues by adjusting production at specific factories or alerting citizens about developing air quality issues.

Tao Wang, Resident Scholar, Energy and Climate Program, Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy: "As a leader in climate modelling, cognitive computing and predictive analytics, IBM Research can provide a lot of value to Beijing and other Chinese cities which are facing significant pressure to better monitor, respond to and address air pollution issues. Science based decision support systems, combined with sophisticated data analysis is exactly what the Chinese government needs to address the country's energy and environmental issues."

China's economic growth over the past several decades has raised the living standards of hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens, according to IBM, and led to China becoming the second largest economy in the world. However, the resulting environmental impact, particularly air pollution, has become a priority for the Chinese government and a matter of global importance.

As far as Dr. Lu Qiang, Professor at Tsinghua University and Fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is concerned: "The key to tackling environmental problems is not only monitoring emissions but adopting a comprehensive approach to air quality management and addressing the issues at their roots. Initiatives like IBM's Green Horizon can help by fostering joint innovation across the entire energy value chain."

The Chinese government recently announced increased investment in solar, wind, hydro and biomass energy in a bid to decrease its dependency on fossil fuels. To support the objective, IBM has developed a renewable energy forecasting system to help energy grids harness and manage alternative energy sources.

The solution combines weather prediction and Big Data analytics to accurately forecast the availability of renewable energy which is renowned for its variability. It enables utility companies to forecast the amount of energy which will be available to be redirected into the grid or stored - helping to ensure that as little as possible is wasted.

IBM is also developing a new system to help monitor, manage and optimise the energy consumption of industrial enterprises - representing over 70% of China's total energy consumption.

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