People who buy electric vehicles, heat pumps or air conditioning units will see improved search results on Google in a series of updates that the company hopes will help people live more sustainable and climate-friendly lives. The tech giant unveiled the new updates along with a series of expanded AI tools for people and policymakers to reduce tailpipe emissions and better predict flooding, wildfires and extreme heat.
As the effects of climate change intensify, Google has begun regularly rolling out update packages aimed at helping people and organizations reduce their carbon footprint. Taken together, today’s announcements represent a renewed effort by the company to help the world mitigate the impact of climate change and better prepare for a future dominated by climate upheaval, said Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.
“The fight against climate change is the next great objective of humanity”
“Fighting climate change is humanity’s next big goal,” Pichai said in a video message shared with reporters. “And as with any lunar project, we’re going to have to answer some big questions to get there.”
There are many things that will be announced today, so here is the summary:
Electric Vehicle Search Results
Electric vehicle sales are growing by leaps and bounds as more models hit dealerships. And EV newbies are increasingly looking for reliable information to help them decide if they’re ready to make the switch. Entering the fray is Google, which wants to be a one-stop shop for anyone looking to electrify their life.
The company is launching new search results for EV buyers by including information about potential government incentives, such as the federal EV tax credit in the U.S. That way, people can see if the vehicle they have their eyes on qualifies for any discount. Improved search results are now available in the US and are coming to France and Germany later this year.
Electric vehicle owners will also get more details on battery range when they search for specific models on Google. In particular, they will see information about how they can drive on a single charge and will be able to customize routes based on elevation change and speed limits so they can determine how many charging stops they will need along the way. The Battery Range Explorer will launch in the US and will be available in Europe early next year.
Accurately estimating electric vehicle battery range is a somewhat moving target, subject to many external factors, such as temperature. Google is pulling information about the car, such as mass and battery size, from the Knowledge graph, Google’s database with billions of data about people, places and things. The company also obtains road loading data from the EPA, which captures factors such as rolling friction, aerodynamics and mechanical friction.
Google is also launching an updated fuel cost calculator for electric and gas car search results, giving people the ability to compare their costs per mile. This will allow people to calculate the potential savings when switching from gas to electric propulsion systems. This feature is now available in 21 countries around the world.
Finally, fuel-efficient routes, which use artificial intelligence to suggest routes with fewer hills, less traffic and consistent speeds with the same or similar ETA, are expanding to India and Indonesia, two populated nations with significant pollution problems.
Cycling and traffic
For people who want to use transportation other than cars, Google is working with local governments to update their cycling routes on Google Maps. For example, working with Transport for London, Google is adding hundreds of kilometers of new bike lanes to its navigation tools.
This builds on a long-term project at Google to provide an easier way to get better multimodal directions for people who want to use multiple sustainable modes of transportation, such as cycling, public transportation, and walking.
Meanwhile, in France, Google is testing a new feature that suggests public transportation and walking routes alongside the car route “if they are practical and comparable over time,” said Yael Maguire, vice president of Geo Sustainability.
Google’s sustainable aviation project is getting bigger. Earlier this year, the company announced it would partner with American Airlines and Bill Gates’ climate investment fund, Breakthrough Energy, to chart more sustainable flight routes. The goal was to help pilots limit a flight’s impact on the weather by avoiding routes that create contrails, those white streaks in the sky that planes sometimes leave behind.
Now the contrails effort is growing to include the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation. or EUROCONTROL. This group manages aviation for several countries, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and north-west Germany. EUROCONTROL will now use Google tools to advise pilots flying in the region on how to best avoid the creation of contrails and reduce emissions.
Green Light Project
In 2021, Google announced a new effort to reduce carbon emissions in cities called Project Green Light, an AI-powered effort to make traffic lights more efficient and therefore decrease pollution.
Typically, stop-and-go traffic generates more carbon emissions, which has the effect of polluting the air in densely populated cities and worsening the health conditions of residents. Intersections in particular are especially dirty, with pollution rates as high as 29 times higher than on open roads. Half of emissions at traffic intersections can be linked to stopping and starting vehicles, according to Google’s analysis of driving trends that leverages Department of Energy models.
Project Green Light uses artificial intelligence to help traffic engineers modify traffic lights so cars and trucks travel more smoothly and with fewer stops and starts. Google says the tools are extraordinarily easy to deploy and activate in just five minutes using existing traffic management infrastructure. Google says early numbers from test cities indicate Project Green Light can reduce stops by up to 30 percent.
Today, Google announced that it was expanding Project Green Light to more than a dozen cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Manchester, Jakarta and Budapest, with more cities planned for later this year.
Google will show more details about sustainable energy devices for people searching for appliances like heat pumps, solar panels, and air conditioning units.
When people search for terms like “water boiler” or “air conditioner,” they will see information about other sustainable options, including their capabilities, energy efficiency, and important government financial incentives. Searching for “furnace,” for example, will include information about potential savings through tax credits and other incentives when switching to central heat pumps.
Search results use data provided by the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR, energy.gov in the United States and the International Energy Agency in the EU.
Sustainable options are not just for individuals. To help cities better include solar energy in their development plans, Google is updating Google Earth to make it easier for planners to determine the best building designs and solar options for urban areas.
This new tool aims to provide urban planners with an understanding of the solar reflectivity of different surfaces, combined with insights that allow cities to better identify which neighborhoods would benefit most from investments and allocate resources accordingly.
Google finds this particularly useful when planning to build places with large roofs, such as parking lots. Google’s “cool roofs” tool will be available in 15 new cities in the coming weeks.
Flood, heat and wildfire warnings
As the world warms, more and more populations are at risk of natural disasters, whether floods, extreme heat or wildfires. Google sees its role as helping to mitigate the impact of these disasters by providing information to decision makers so they can be prepared in advance.
Or as The edgeJustine Calma wrote last year:
Half the world lacks adequate early warning systems for disasters such as floods and fires, says United Nations report found last month. This is a lack of life-saving technology that can give people enough time to get to safety. The hope is that Google services can fill some gaps, especially now that climate change causes flooding and fires even more dangerous than in the past.
Today, the company is expanding its Flood Hub tool to the US and Canada, adding those countries to a list that includes about 80 other countries that use the feature. The center will cover 800 riverside towns where some 12 million people currently live.
In 2020, Google also began offering US users a map feature that shows wildfire boundaries in near real-time. The company says it is working with the U.S. Forest Service to update its fire spread model, which would be “the largest update in 50 years.” Google says it is using machine learning to “model more fire dynamics to help fire authorities train firefighters, plan effective fuel treatments, and fight large-scale fires more safely and effectively while in the field.” “.
Finally, Google is expanding its “tree canopy” tool, which uses artificial intelligence to help cities keep their residents cool by mapping where more trees are needed, to 2,000 additional cities around the world.
The costs of AI
When asked about the climate impact of AI, Google said it was challenging to predict the future growth of data centers, for example, as AI use cases expanded and evolved.
“If we look at the research historically and also at our own experience, we see that the demand for AI computing has grown much more slowly than the power needed for it,” Kate Brandt, the company’s chief sustainability officer, told reporters.
Brandt added that the use of new versions of TPU, or tensor processing units, has proven to be faster and more efficient than previous versions. And data centers are being redesigned to be more energy efficient and more sustainable.
“We are approximately 1.5 times more energy efficient than a typical enterprise data center,” he said. “And, of course, we are moving toward carbon-free energy in our data center operation.”