Using AI and satellite imagery, the Global Renewables Watch maps renewable energy installations from space
Microsoft Corp., Planet Labs PBC and The Nature Conservancy on Thursday announced its plans to launch the Global Renewables Watch (GRW), a first-of-its-kind living atlas intended to map and measure all utility-scale solar and wind installations on Earth using artificial intelligence (AI) and satellite imagery, allowing users to evaluate clean energy transition progress and track trends over time.
With initial mapping of solar and wind energy installations in Germany and India, as well as solar installations in Brazil and Egypt completed, the GRW is being built to serve as a publicly available renewable energy atlas with country-by-country insights into production progress and development trends. With access to satellite data dating back to 2018, and plans to update the atlas twice annually, the GRW aims to show countries’ renewable energy capacity, assist in understanding that capacity, and recognize patterns about the potential impact of the renewable energy siting on the landscape over time rather than as a moment in time.
The first full global inventory is expected to be completed by early 2023, at which point the results will undergo both scientific and technical validation. For this joint program, Microsoft is providing the AI and platform technology, Planet is contributing the underlying satellite imagery, and The Nature Conservancy is overlaying the subject-matter expertise to analyze the output.
The announcement comes as New York City hosts international public- and private-sector leaders for the opening of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly and the 14th annual Climate Week NYC.
“The theme for Climate Week NYC this year is ‘getting it done,’ and to do that, we need to move from pledges to progress,” said The Nature Conservancy’s CEO Jennifer Morris. “Global Renewables Watch, which is a result of collaboration between Microsoft, The Nature Conservancy and Planet, is exactly the kind of action we need to see. This will be a publicly accessible resource to help researchers and policymakers understand current capacities and gaps so that decision-makers can scale much-needed renewable energy resources in a responsible, nature-friendly way.”
Current methods for tracking solar and wind energy projects globally are an immensely complex undertaking, cutting across countless jurisdictions and with much of the data held by private organizations. The GRW aims to provide this data by coupling AI with high-resolution satellite imagery and presenting it in a dynamically updated time series.
“Each of the partners brings unique knowledge and value-add to this initiative,” said Planet’s Co-Founder and CEO Will Marshall. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so by combining Microsoft’s AI and cloud computing capabilities, Planet’s comprehensive and high-resolution satellite imagery, and The Nature Conservancy’s deep subject-matter expertise, we hope to build a powerful platform for surfacing — and democratizing access to — renewable energy data.”
The partners will continue to map additional countries and are aiming to build awareness of the tool among those tasked with managing the world’s clean energy transition in the weeks leading up to and during the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP27, taking place in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, Nov. 6-18, 2022.
“The world needs access to data in order to make responsible environmental decisions, and the Global Renewables Watch will serve as a critical tool for understanding humanity’s progress toward fulfilling the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” said Microsoft VP and Chief Data Scientist Juan Lavista Ferres.
The GRW will make its data and findings available at GlobalRenewablesWatch.org for integration into wider analyses.