Christian Noll, managing director managing partner, IBM Sustainability Services for EMEA, asks can intelligent infrastructure drive clean energy transition, efficient waste management and decarbonization?

Building The Future: Intelligent infrastructure and smart assets must be integral to any organization's decarbonization plans. But enterprises and governments need to act now to ensure they are building and maintaining assets and infrastructure in a way that contributes to better outcomes for business and society.

A company's assets, like buildings, energy grids, vehicles and industrial equipment, are key contributors to today's sustainability challenges. However, Digitalization, AI and the Internet of Things mean that companies now have the tools to ensure their assets are more resilient, efficient, and sustainable.

Companies that we work with are taking a two-pronged approach to achieve sustainability objectives by investing in infrastructure and assets that enable a faster transition to cleaner energy sources and tackling the critical issue of energy wastage. They are finding success by doing these 4 things:

1. Investing in smart infrastructure

“Sustainable infrastructure is the only way we can ensure that people, nature, and the environment thrive together," according to the UNEP. However, research by McKinsey shows that the world will need to invest $9.2 trillion each year until 2050 to achieve net-zero emissions in the built environment. So, it is critical that organizations invest in sustainable infrastructure that adapts to future uncertain climate conditions, contributes to the decarbonization of the economy, protects biodiversity and minimizes pollution. For organizations, that means building more intelligent factories, offices and assets that are more energy efficient, reduce emissions and extend asset lifecycles.

2. Taking better care of existing assets

Companies need to consider the carbon cost of demolishing and rebuilding or simply replacing assets and look at how tech can be used to improve the sustainability of existing buildings and assets. Consider the number of assets needed in your operations. Each has a finite lifecycle that includes maintenance, refurbishment and/or replacement, which are not always the most eco-friendly activities.

Asset management solutions incorporating AI are helping clients we work with reduce the energy usage of their assets. For instance, predictive maintenance can improve asset availability and extend machines' lives, and by pinpointing small problems before they become a bigger, more energy-draining issues, companies can save on energy costs and reduce emissions.

3. Smarter energy consumption

Intelligent asset management is one of the ways that enterprises are reducing energy consumption. Software can now predict how much energy assets require, be it a water pump or a lighting system via a range of data sources and AI rather than speculation, meaning companies can dial up and dial down energy requirements.

Modelling the risk from the weather is often critical to operations. For example, accurate weather data allows clients to better predict their energy demand and reduce waste so that they don't purchase more power than they need. C02 emissions from vehicles can also be reduced by using weather information to predict and avoid disruptions and plot the most efficient routes.

And whilst even the most advanced AI can't predict precisely when the next extreme weather event will occur, the ability to model the impact of these events means a company's infrastructure can be prepared to best manage events whether this is in the case of powering air conditioning during extreme heat events or managing the effect of weather patterns on generation capacity of wind and solar sources.

The World Economic Forum estimates that the top 1% of energy demand can result in up to 9% of total infrastructure costs, while the top 10% of demand accounts for about 25% of total costs.

AI and the internet of things offer the ability to flatten the curve, reduce peak demands, which means less requirement for fossil fuels and significantly reducing the costs of purchasing energy.

4. More connected assets

Intelligent assets and infrastructure are allowing organisations to fully benefit from connecting to smart energy grids, where the transport of electricity from clean energy sources can be designed to meet the varying electricity demands of end users.

The ability of AI to aggregate the various data points, including weather patterns, renewable generation fluctuations, energy usage, price tariffs, and a range of data sources, represents the best opportunity to accelerate the transition to clean energy.

Outdated infrastructure and power grids are currently a blocker in many countries and regions, preventing the required integration of renewable energy sources, so enterprises and governments must work together to upgrade infrastructure to enable the potential of new technologies.

Copenhagen, Denmark is one location showing the way and has reduced CO2 emissions by 80% since 2009.[i] It has done so by switching its power and district heating systems to biomass, wind and solar, renovating buildings to make them energy efficient and improving public transport.

Collaboration needed to harness full potential

The full benefits of smart infrastructure and assets can only be achieved by connecting them across the traditional boundaries of corporate enterprise. Our clients are dramatically increasing resilience and sustainability through the adoption of smart infrastructure and intelligent asset management. But harnessing the true potential for technology in the energy transition requires collaboration, and investment across industry and government.