Can digital technology be sustainable?

Kate Brandt, Google’s Sustainability Director, launched Project Sunroof at Hay Festival today. This is an initiative that uses machine-learning to estimate how much solar potential a house has by examining the property's features – its roof area and angle, for instance  – and weather data, such as sun positioning. Savings are estimated using data from Google's Earth and Maps apps. As a result homeowners can make an informed decision about installing solar panels perfectly suited to their location and needs.

Project Sunroof first launched in the US in 2015 and then in Germany last year. It is now available in several UK regions, including Birmingham, Brighton, Liverpool, Newcastle, Reading and parts of London.

To address concern over the rapid increase of carbon emissions from digital technology, Brandt told the Hay audience that for all the energy used by Google, the company buys an equivalent amount of renewable energy. This is referred to as the Power Purchase Agreement and is part of a bigger plan to slash carbon emissions and demonstrate the company's commitment to sustainability. The goal is to use 100 percent renewables and to eliminate waste through greater efficiency at data centres.

Brandt, who was formerly President Obama's Chief Sustainability Officer, was asked was asked by Andy Fryers (Hay Festival Sustainability Director) about Trump's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. In her opinion, this was done for economic, not political, reasons. She stated that in general, more progress was made by bodies outside of government. She highlighted the importance of the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco this summer, and that efforts by non-governmental organisations would be crucial to its success.

If you missed this, you might like event 433, Artificial Intelligence and Our Future, at 2.30 pm  on 3 June.

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