Sustainability Problem (Energy and Health and Safety): Los Angeles owns and maintains more than 223,000 electric street lights. Old, standard street lights provide an important service, but they also suck energy and are ubiquitous infrastructure that is underutilized. Between 2009-2020 LA switched almost all of its streetlights to LEDs and saved $11 million in electricity costs and prevented 72,000 metric tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Now LA is ready to transform these infrastructure staples into multi-service hubs.
Solution: LA’s smart street lights, or “Superblooms” as they’re called, provide an opportunity to reconfigure and innovate streetlight design beyond simply providing light.
The new lights are described as a “bouquet with extra tubes and arms for features such as shade sails, pedestrian fixtures or solar panels” which will allow streetlights to meet other city demands like EV charging, shading, wayfinding, internet, air pollution monitoring, and more.
During the pandemic, LA was able to equip street lights with cell phone equipment and about 3,000 street lights now provide extended 4G and 5G cellular data connectivity to Angelinos.
The 5G connectivity of the streetlights will allow for deployment of wifi, sensors, digital signage, extensive data collection, and will ultimately even enable smart cars to communicate with the traffic infrastructure.
Data gathered could be used to reveal traffic and pedestrian patterns, periods that require more or less lighting, and even identify communities with the poorest air quality.
One potential use of smart street lights that is more controversial is the incorporation of public safety cameras that could be used to help solve crime.
Implementation: Implementation of the Superbloom streetlights will be slightly complicated by the fact that they are not uniform. First, it will be necessary to identify which street light add-on features are most necessary or desirable in different locations (i.e. perhaps some require a sun shade while others may require an EV charging station). Next, Project Room (Superbloom’s design studio) and LA’s Chief Design Officer will need to work together to design the desired series and locations of lights. Third, a combination of these variations of lights should be piloted in their target neighborhoods to better understand user engagement and feedback before launching across all of LA.
Sustainability Problem (Energy): Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) have gained mainstream popularity and acceptance as a method of measuring and achieving sustainability goals via renewable energy procurement. Yet, buying RECs does not necessarily reduce an entity’s reliance on dirty energy in their immediate regional market, especially when using intermittent renewables. There is currently no recognized system of verifying renewable electricity supply on an hourly basis. Better information and data transparency is needed to facilitate the understanding of when a company’s energy is truly generated through renewable electricity.
Stakeholders include corporations with significant renewable energy consumption, including Google and Microsoft;
Significant energy producers such as Engie energy;
And key players in the energy certification market, such as M-RETS.
EnergyTag has already completed an initial implementation step which was developing their Granular Energy Certificates report.
The next implementation step involves outreach to grid operators and big energy producers and consumers to get them on board with the benefits of incorporating more data into an hourly certificate system.
The third step would be building out this new capability in pilot projects that would show functionality of and interest in a voluntary market for hourly RECs.
Sustainability Problem (Civic Engagement): Climate change increases housing insecurity and climate emergencies can destabilize communities. Low-income renters may be especially hard hit as climate impacts act as a multiplier of existing challenges. One way to mitigate against the negative impacts of climate change is to provide resilient homes to more families via improved access to affordable housing. In many cities, it can be complex and confusing to apply for affordable housing and often those who need it do not have access to the time or technology to sift through housing information and paperwork. Some affordable housing search tools already exist (i.e. https://housing.sfgov.org/; https://www.dchousingsearch.org/) but a big obstacle to the success of such tools is acquiring quality data and inputting it in a timely manner.
Solution (Google affordable housing search tool): The City of Detroit has partnered with Google.org’s Fellowship Program to create an affordable housing search tool with the goal of making it easier to find and apply for affordable housing. Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department will work with thirteen Google employees to build the affordable housing portal that will go live in late 2021.
The Detroit housing portal will provide background on affordable housing, eligibility, and application requirements.
It will also compile updated information on available affordable housing options into a central location and keep it regularly updated.
Google’s experience with sourcing and cleaning lots of data will be useful in overcoming data challenges associated with developing such a tool.
The one-stop affordable housing portal will also aim to streamline paperwork and inconsistent application requirements to help users submit applications and avoid rejections on technicalities.
Google may be able to provide additional value by integrating the tool with information from Google Earth on each property.
1.Sustainability Problem (Energy): Roofs are traditionally dark in color which leads to strong absorption of sunlight. This heats up buildings and the surrounding air, contributing to the urban heat island effect. Heat waves can cause serious thermal stress and death when homes cannot be cooled properly for economic or technological reasons. For example, more than half of the deaths associated with a 2003 extreme heat wave in France occurred in people located within their homes or retirement homes. Additionally, LBNL reports that Americans 65 and older are most impacted by heat waves and spend 81% of their time indoors, thus finding that most adverse health effects associated with heat waves occur inside homes. Hotter buildings also lead to greater demand for air conditioning and increased energy usage. Especially as climate change causes global temperatures to soar, demand for electricity to cool buildings and save lives continues to rise. We often power air conditioning with fossil fuels which releases more pollution into the air and furthers the climate crisis. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 90 percent of the world’s population is already exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution.
2.Solution (Whitest Paint Ever for Cool Roofs): Cool roofs are an affordable and easily deployable means of passively keeping indoor temperatures lower during heat events. Cool roofs are roofs that are designed to have high thermal reflectance and high thermal emittance. A number of cool roof technologies are currently used including sheet coverings, highly reflective tiles or shingles, and reflective paint.
Cool roofs themselves are not a new concept – but the recent breakthrough of white paint with an incredibly high level of solar reflectance is an exciting advancement in the field.
A research team at Purdue University developed an “ultra-white” paint that reflects 98% of the sunlight that hits it. For comparison, most paints on the market for cool roofs today only reflect 80-90%.
The new paint can cool below ambient temperatures because the heat lost by radiation is greater than the heat gained from the sun. At night, it can keep surfaces 19°F cooler than their ambient surroundings, and at noon with strong sunlight, it can keep surfaces 8°F below surroundings.
The team found that if the paint covered a roof area of ~1000 sq ft, it would provide a cooling power of 10 kilowatts, which is more powerful than the AC in most houses.
The articles also note the downside of cool roofs and this new paint, which is that cool roofs can slightly increase favorable conditions for the formation of ozone and smog when they reflect more UV light back into the atmosphere. (One study found that widespread adoption of cool roofs in Southern California could result in the region violating federal particulate matter standards two additional days each year.)
City governments, especially in hot regions, interested in lowering temperatures and facilitating energy savings.
Private homeowners without access to AC or who prefer a low cost/low energy alternative.
Building owners interested in increased comfort and lower energy bills.
Architects and real estate developers interested in incorporating cool roof designs into buildings from the start.
4. Implementation: Implementation of this advanced cool roof technology is particularly urgent in rapidly warming parts of the world with lower levels of AC access (i.e. India). Initial implementation steps could include:
Additional research and development to minimize degradation of the paint’s solar reflectance capabilities over time.
Background research on regions prone to deadly heat waves and GIS analyses of available roof area.
Outreach to local governments to encourage regulatory requirements and support for cool roofs.
1) Sustainability Problem (Safety and Health): Food security is a serious global health issue that will only worsen with climate change. Approximately a quarter of the global population is food insecure and the World Bank projects that the world will need 70% more food to feed a global population of 9.6 billion people in 2050. Last year in the US alone, natural disasters like droughts and wildfires further disrupted our systems and caused $95 billion in damages. In order to plan growing conditions and project crop yields, many companies rely on mono-dimensional data. However, it’s necessary to consider entire agricultural and climate systems in order to improve accuracy of predictions and efficiency of production as the world grows increasingly interconnected.
Gro Intelligence was featured in the 2021 “Time 100 Most Influential Companies,” for producing an application that pulls together global food and agriculture data and structures it into a common language on a single platform that produces data, analytics, and forecasts using human and artificial intelligence.
Gro’s application can process 650 trillion data points from over 40,000 sources and provides analysis and predictions for 15,000 agricultural products. Additionally, Gro is creating the “first real clean global data set on climate” to help investors account for potential climate impacts.
Gro’s goal is to increase efficiency and productivity of the global food industry by reducing the complexity of agricultural and climate data. Using hundreds of customizable models, Gro provides information about price volatility due to supply chain impacts, planting intentions and in-season yield models, physical risks of climate change, and regional demand shifts.
The Gro for Good program allows growers, researchers, and non-profits to use Gro’s data and visualization tools for free in order to more equitably tackle food insecurity globally.
3) Organizational stakeholders: In an interview, Gro CEO Sara Menker said that “Gro works with everyone in the agricultural ecosystem but the farmer.” This is an interesting observation around a product that in many ways, is meant to help small farmers. Menker’s idea is that if you make the entire system around the farmer more efficient and decrease the cost of capital, then small farmers and agriculture benefit. Gro hopes to achieve this goal by working with a broad range of stakeholders, including: government bodies invested in national food security that can monitor and forecast changes in global agricultural markets; the financial sector (hedge funds, investment banks, asset managers, etc) which uses these markets to manage risks and predict future price movements; wholesale buyers who would benefit from trends predicting price disruptions in advance; and food and beverage companies concerned about supply chain disruption.
4) Implementation: Gro Intelligence already secured prominent financial backers like TBG Growth and Data Collective. Implementation of Gro will depend on the perception of need for these climate and ag data sets, and thus will require drawing the attention of the financial sector and big food and beverage companies to the risks posed by climate change and a lack of knowledge around it. Successful implementation of Gro also depends on availability and accuracy of data. Gro must secure access to robust and reliable data for every question it endeavors to answer. Such initial implementation steps are still far from the company’s goal of enabling market stability and risk-reduction benefits up and down the supply chain.