Big plan, big money will tackle Beijing's big air quality problem

Wed, 2014-07-09 06:00 -- Jesse Berst

Dr. Jin Dong leads the Green Horizon initiative for IBM.China's economic growth in recent decades has raised the living standards of hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens and led to China becoming the second largest economy in the world. But that growth has come at a cost. More and more cars clogging roadways and more and more factories spewing emissions have taken a toll on air quality in China's urban centers.

Now its capital city of Beijing has teamed with Council Lead Partner IBM to tackle its intense pollution problem as part of a broader "Green Horizon" initiative focused on sustainable growth in China. The 10-year effort led by IBM's China Research laboratory highlights three critical areas:

    • Air quality management
    • Renewable energy forecasting
    • Energy optimization for industry

For starters, Beijing will invest over $160 billion to improve air quality and deliver on its ambitious target of reducing harmful fine particulate matter by 25% by 2017.

How will Beijing do it?

IBM is developing a system to enable Beijing authorities to pinpoint the type, source and level of emissions and predict air quality in the city. Using its cognitive computing systems, IBM will analyze and learn from streams of real-time data generated by air quality monitoring stations, meteorological satellites and the company's new-generation optical sensors -- all connected by the Internet of Things.

IBM says that by applying supercomputing processing power, its scientists and the Beijing government can create visual maps showing the source and dispersion of pollutants across the city 72 hours in advance and with street-scale resolution.

Accurate, real-time data about air quality will allow Beijing officials to take rapid action to address environmental issues – for instance by adjusting production at specific factories or alerting citizens about developing air quality issues.

According to Dr. Lu Qiang, Professor at Tsinghua University and Fellow of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, "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."

Forecasting renewable energy

Also on the Green Horizon agenda is a forecasting system that IBM will implement to help China's energy grids harness and manage renewable energy sources. The Chinese government recently announced plans for increased investment in solar, wind, hydro and biomass energy to decrease its dependency on fossil fuels.

The IBM renewable energy forecasting system combines weather prediction and Big Data analytics to accurately forecast the availability of renewable energy which is intermittent. The information will help utilities know the amount of energy they can redirect into the grid or store, which helps ensure as little as possible energy is wasted. 

Optimizing energy for industry

Due to its economic growth over the past decade, China has become the biggest energy consumer in the world. To support the government's goals of greatly reducing the country's "carbon intensity," IBM is developing a new system to help monitor, manage and optimize the energy consumption of China's industrial enterprises which represent over 70% of  total energy consumption.

Using a Big Data and analytics platform deployed over the cloud, the system will be able to:

    • Analyze vast amounts of data generated by energy monitoring devices and identify opportunities for conservation
    • Analyze data from industrial enterprises in different cities and identify which sites and equipment waste the most energy
    • Guide decisions about optimization and investment in China's most power hungry industries such as steel, cement, chemical and non-ferrous metal 

In addition to IBM's China Research lab, the Green Horizon initiative will tap into the company's network of 12 global research labs and partners from government, academia, industry and private enterprise.