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Clean tech solutions need to scale up in the battle against climate change

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From solar power to self-driving electric cars, we already have access to the technologies and tools that can help battle the devastating effects of climate change. That’s the good news.

But in light of the dire warning about the planet’s future issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change earlier this month — which called for urgency in reducing global carbon emissions by more than 50 per cent in the next decade, lest we face widespread drought and extinction — those clean tech solutions might not be enough.

Until enough people rally their efforts to push for global change from energy-gobbling governments and industry, experts say our individual choices and actions may be insufficient.

That’s where some of our most pervasive tech tools — from social media to the internet itself — can come in to play.

Where we’re stuck right now isn’t about access to or availability of technology, according to clean tech experts. But rather it’s an issue of implementation. To make any substantial difference, that implementation needs to be global in scale.

It’s easy to think of technology today as smartphones, virtual reality or any of the personal gadgets that distract us, making our lives easier, faster — and just more fun. But the grids that charge those devices and power our cities are, in fact, the most dominant technology in our lives. And in large part, they’re still running off fossil fuels.

A Tesla energy storage facility opened in Australia in November 2017. Large-scale energy storage could make possible ‘endless amounts of solar and wind on the grid,’ according to clean tech venture capitalist Tom Rand. (Tesla)

Until that grid’s energy is clean, all of the tools and toys and gadgets we plug in are not, says Tom Rand, a clean tech venture capitalist and author of Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit.

“The biggest challenge is that infrastructure takes a long time to replace,” he said.

But solutions do exist. Rand explains that we’re “starting to see more grid-scale energy storage,” which involves storing massive amounts of electricity on the grid, many magnitudes greater than say an electric car battery,  making it both cleaner and more efficient.

“That makes possible endless amounts of solar and wind on the grid,” he said.

Electric vehicles, including cars and public transport, offer more hope.

“Once people have affordable options for clean transportation, that will go a long way to cutting emissions,” said John Paul Morgan, chief technology officer (CTO) of the Toronto-based Morgan Solar.

And while realistically not everyone is going to buy an electric car, “it’s things like convenient apps to summon transit, bike-sharing networks, and electric scooters that are going to make a bigger difference,” Morgan said.

Problem technologies

Yet for all of the sustainable solutions coming from the world of tech, there are also some pretty big culprits adding to our emissions, including bitcoin, which has been at the centre of its own sustainability controversy due to the excessive energy needed to run the computers that “mine” the cryptocurrency.

Fans intended for use with cryptocurrency mining computers are seen in front of a bitcoin logo at a exhibit in Taipei, Taiwan. Energy consumption associated with mining for cryptocurrency has been growing. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

New research suggests ceasing the trade of bitcoin would reduce global energy consumption by enough to account for a full year’s worth of the emissions cuts required to limit temperature rises to the UN’s suggestion.

And while bitcoin enthusiasts argue that the conversation around the digital currency and its energy use has been oversimplified, critics maintain that it is an energy nightmare.

“For the sake of the planet, I hope bitcoin dies,” said Morgan.

As for what individuals can do, experts are divided. Some say that due to the urgency of the climate situation, it’s out of our hands and now up to governments, industry and policy-makers.

But others believe that doing something is better than doing nothing, and reducing consumption — including how much we rely on power — is a big part of the solution.

Easy alternatives

For those looking to integrate more sustainable energy sources into our daily lives, Rand says his first suggestion is to look at alternatives to natural gas for heating homes, such as installing a heat pump, which he says, “is super-efficient at pulling heat out of even very cold air, and most importantly, it runs off solar- or wind-powered electricity.”

And while electric vehicles are helpful, reducing our carbon footprint isn’t just about how we get around — it’s how much we travel each day, as well.

Since January 2016, the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward has replaced 98 per cent of its fossil fuel-heating requirements with a heat-pump system that draws heat from seawater. (Dan Joling/Associated Press)

While it may not be an option for workers in all sectors, more Canadians could be working from their homes, using video chat and digital communications tools to stay connected, while keeping cars off the roads.

Even among those like Morgan, who says that battling climate change is no longer a challenge for individuals alone, there still are ways we can use technology to help — by using it to come together.

“The most meaningful thing we can do is to organize politically and push for collective action,” said Morgan.

After all, when it comes to tech and climate change, he reminds us that the challenge isn’t about a lack of tools or solutions; it’s more about awareness and adoption. Technology has repeatedly been used to get people to rally behind causes they believe in, which might be the most important next step.

What we need, according to Morgan, is for climate change “to go viral.”

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Top 5 Analytics Trends That Are Shaping The Future

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Digital transformation is increasingly becoming the focus for many CIOs around the world today—with analytics playing a fundamental role in driving the future of the digital economy.

While data is important to every business, it is necessary for businesses to have a firm grip on data analytics to allow them transform raw pieces of data into important insights. However, unlike the current trends in business intelligence—which is centred around data visualization—the future of data analytics would encompass a more contextual experience.

“The known data analytics development cycle is described in stages: from descriptive (what happened) to diagnostic (why did it happen), to discovery (what can we learn from it), to predictive (what is likely to happen), and, finally, to prescriptive analytics (what action is the best to take),” said Maurice op het Veld is a partner at KPMG Advisory in a report.

“Another way of looking at this is that data analytics initially “supported” the decision-making process but is now enabling “better” decisions than we can make on our own.”

Here are some of the current trends that arealready shaping the future of data analytics in individuals and businesses.

  1. Growth in mobile devices

With the number of mobile devices expanding to include watches, digital personal assistants, smartphones, smart glasses, in-car displays, to even video gaming systems, the final consumption plays a key role on the level of impact analytics can deliver.

Previously, most information consumers accessed were on a computer with sufficient room to view tables, charts and graphs filled with data, now, most consumers require information delivered in a format well optimized for whatever device they are currently viewing it on.

Therefore, the content must be personalized to fit the features of the user’s device and not just the user alone.

  1. Continuous Analytics

More and more businesses are relying on the Internet of Things (IoT) and their respective streaming data—which in turn shortens the time it takes to capture, analyze and react to the information gathered. Therefore, while analytics programspreviously were termed successful when results were delivered within days or weeks of processing, the future of analytics is bound to drastically reduce this benchmark to hours, minutes, seconds—and even milliseconds.

“All devices will be connected and exchange data within the “Internet of Things” and deliver enormous sets of data. Sensor data like location, weather, health, error messages, machine data, etc. will enable diagnostic and predictive analytics capabilities,” noted Maurice.

“We will be able to predict when machines will break down and plan maintenance repairs before it happens. Not only will this be cheaper, as you do not have to exchange supplies when it is not yet needed, but you can also increase uptime.”

  1. Augmented Data Preparation

During the process of data preparation, machine learning automation will begin to augment data profiling and data quality, enrichment, modelling, cataloguing and metadata development.

Newer techniques would include supervised, unsupervised and reinforcement learning which is bound to enhance the entire data preparation process. In contrast to previous processes—which depended on rule-based approach to data transformation—this current trend would involve advanced machine learning processes that would evolve based on recent data to become more precise at responding to changes in data.

  1. Augmented Data Discovery

Combined with the advancement in data preparation, a lot of these newer algorithms now allow information consumers to visualize and obtain relevant information within the data with more ease. Enhancements such as automatically revealing clusters, links, exceptions, correlation and predictions with pieces of data, eliminate the need for end users to build data models or write algorithms themselves.

This new form of augmented data discovery will lead to an increase in the number of citizen data scientist—which include information users who, with the aid of augmented assistance can now identify and respond to various patterns in data faster and a more distributed model.

  1. AugmentedData Science

It is important to note that the rise of citizen data scientist will not in any way eliminate the need for a data scientist who gathers and analyze data to discover profitable opportunities for the growth of a business. However, as these data scientists give room for citizen data scientists to perform the easier tasks, their overall analysis becomes more challenging and equally valuable to the business.

As time goes by, machine learning would be applied in other areas such as feature and model selection. This would free up some of the tasks performed by data scientist and allow them focus on the most important part of their job, which is to identify specific patterns in the data that can potentially transform business operations and ultimately increase revenue.

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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