By Xiaowei Shen
China’s economic development story is truly incredible. With an average GDP growth of 10% over the past 30 years, China has emerged as the world’s second-largest economy and largest manufacturer.
But as a nation we realize that for China to sustain rapid growth some things have to change. One of the most central and widely discussed issues is ensuring growth while protecting the environment and the health of our citizens. We understand that our success should not come at the cost of future generations.
The good news is that China is addressing these challenges head on. For example, through its “Airborne Pollution Prevention and Control Action Plan,” the government plans to improve air quality in China by 10% by 2017. China also plans to get 13% of consumed energy from non-fossil fuels in the next three years and reduce carbon intensity by 40-45% by the year 2020 (equivalent to 130 million tons of coal per year).
To help meet these ambitious targets, IBM is launching a major 10-year initiative called Green Horizon. Led by IBM Research – China with support from our network of 12 global research labs, we will bring cutting-edge technologies to bear on three key areas: air quality management, renewable energy forecasting and energy management.
Information technology is an essential enabler for “going green,” whether you’re talking about companies, countries or the entire planet. It also has the potential for driving new waves of economic growth and creating new business opportunities. So China has the opportunity to address its pollution and energy-management challenges, and, at the same time, foster yet another wave of economic growth. Looking ahead, I believe that China’s energy and environment initiatives could ultimately provide a model for the word and lead to a set of globally exportable solutions.
This kind of innovation is dependent on a whole ecosystem of partners – in China and around the world. As one of the first steps of Green Horizon, we are forging relationships with universities, businesses, government and industry. For example, through a collaboration agreement with the Beijing Municipal Government, we have agreed to jointly develop an urban air quality management system. Beijing aims to reduce levels of harmful fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) by 30% in the next 3 years, and we will offer up some of IBM’s most advanced technologies — including cognitive computing, Internet-of-Things, data analytics and physical modelling.
A second area that we’re focusing on is renewable energy management. Solar, wind and hydro power represent an important part of our future and China has committed to get 13% of consumed energy from non-fossil fuels by 2017. But the primary challenge is in their variability due to the impact of weather and environmental factors. Our technologies can help to overcome this challenge. We have developed a solution that combines weather prediction and Big Data analytics to accurately forecast the availability of renewable energy. It enables utility companies to forecast the amount of energy which will be available to be redirected into the grid or stored – helping to ensure that as little as possible is wasted. It increases the viability of renewable energy and can help to reduce the country’s dependency on coal burning power plants—a major source of particulate air pollution across the entire country.
It has already been deployed to 30 wind, solar and hydro power sources – the biggest one is China’s largest renewable energy initiative – the Zhangbei Demonstration Project managed by State Grid Jibei Electricity Power Company Limited (SG-JBEPC). Using the system, SG-JBEPC is able to integrate 10% more alternative energy (enough for 14,000 homes) into the national grid. It is also incredibly accurate: with a prediction accuracy of 90% proven on Zhangbei’s wind turbines, it is one of the most accurate energy forecasting systems in the world.
Now, through Green Horizon, we plan on expanding the program so utilities all across China can use the system paving the way for the construction of some of the world’s largest renewable energy grids.
But it’s not just about producing more energy, it is also about increasing energy efficiency. China’s economic growth over the past 10 years has led it to becoming the biggest energy consumer in the world. It is also one of the least efficient users. Energy consumption per unit of GDP in China is currently about 2.5 times of the world average, most of which is consumed by key industries such as steel, chemical, cement, nonferrous metal and thermal power.
China is committed to addressing this issue – IBM can help. We are working on a system that will help China’s most power hungry industries know when, where and how much energy is consumed. Using a Big Data and analytics platform deployed over the cloud, our system will analyze vast amounts of data generated by energy monitoring devices and identify opportunities for conservation. It could be used to analyze data from industrial enterprises in different cities and identify which sites and equipment waste the most energy. The system will be valuable for guiding decisions about optimization and investment in China’s most power hungry industries such as steel, cement, chemical and non-ferrous metal.
IBM has been a partner to China throughout the country’s modernization program of the past 30 years. But I believe we’re now at an inflection point with a collective knowledge that the next era of growth needs a more innovative and sustainable approach. China’s aspirations to create a ‘modern, creative and harmonious’ society are music to our ears and, with Green Horizon, IBM Research – China is committing itself to help.