Sustainability-in-Tech : Dynamic Window Breakthrough

Researchers at North Carolina State University in the US have developed a new dynamic window material that can tune out certain wavelengths of light and block heat to suit the conditions.

Three Modes Now Possible 

The Dynamic window glass can be used to switch windows between three modes: transparent, or “normal” windows, windows that block infrared light (helping to keep a building cool), and tinted windows that control glare while maintaining the view. This three-mode option is a step forward from existing dynamic windows based on electrochromism (using an electric stimulus to change opacity) which can only switch between clear or dark modes.

Water Is The Key

The researchers report that it’s the binding of water within the crystalline structure of tungsten oxide (forming tungsten oxide hydrate) that allows the window material to exhibit a previously unknown behaviour whereby it can be tuned to three modes.

How Does It Work? 

To summarise how and why it works:

Transparent tungsten oxides have long been used in dynamic windows by using an electrical signal and injecting lithium ions and electrons into the material to make it dark and block light.

The new research, however, showed that adding water to the crystalline structure of tungsten oxide hydrate (a substance related to tungsten oxide that can accommodate more lithium ions) makes its structure less dense. This makes it more resistant to deformation when lithium ions and electrons are injected into it, thereby enabling it to have two modes. The first is a “heat blocking” mode (the cool mode), allowing visible wavelengths of light to pass through, but blocking infrared light. The second, (which happens after more lithium ions and electrons are injected), is a dark mode, which blocks out both visible and infrared wavelengths of light.

Delia Milliron, co-corresponding author of the paper about the research said: “The discovery of dual-band (infrared and visible) light control in a single material that’s already well-known to the smart windows community may accelerate development of commercial products with enhanced features”. She also highlighted the potential wider implications of the discovery, saying: “The unforeseen role of structural water in producing distinctive electrochemical properties may inspire the research community beyond smart window developers, leading to innovation in energy storage and conversion materials.”

Why Have Dynamic / Smart Windows Anyway? 

Dynamic windows, or smart windows, offer several benefits. For example:

– Energy efficiency. They reduce energy consumption by controlling heat and light entry, leading to lower heating and cooling costs.

– Comfort and productivity. By managing glare and natural light, they create a more comfortable environment, enhancing productivity in workplaces and schools.

– UV protection. These windows block harmful UV rays, protecting interiors and occupants from sun damage.

– Privacy and security. Their adjustable opacity offers privacy and added security without the need for blinds or curtains.

– Aesthetic and design flexibility. They provide architects with more design options, allowing for large glass surfaces without excessive heat gain or loss.

– Environmental impact. By reducing reliance on artificial lighting and climate control, they help lower a building’s carbon footprint.

– Health benefits. Optimal natural light exposure improves mood and sleep patterns.

Overall, dynamic windows offer a combination of energy savings, comfort, aesthetic appeal, and environmental sustainability.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

This breakthrough in dynamic window technology may have significant implications for organisations across a spectrum of industries because it offers a dual benefit of enhanced building design and energy efficiency. Organisations may now leverage windows that automatically adjust to changing light and temperature, thereby optimising internal environments while reducing reliance on artificial climate control. This could not only improve energy efficiency, but also potentially lower operational costs related to heating, cooling, and lighting. What’s also special about this discovery is that it uses an already known technology, but dramatically improves it by using a cheap and abundant addition – water.

Environmentally, this technology aligns with sustainability objectives, i.e. contributing substantially to lowering energy consumption by reducing the need for artificial lighting and air conditioning. This innovation could, therefore, be a step forward for organisations aiming to reduce their carbon footprint and champion environmental stewardship.

The potential impact on occupants’ well-being is also worth noting. The ability of these windows to control glare while maintaining clear visibility could enhance comfort in workplaces and educational settings. Natural light is known to improve mood and productivity, suggesting that this innovation could lead to better work and learning environments.

From an architectural standpoint, this technology offers new creative possibilities. Designers can now incorporate large glass structures without compromising energy efficiency or internal comfort. This not only expands design options but may also enhance the aesthetic value of buildings.

The broader implications of this technology, as pointed out by researcher Delia Milliron, extend beyond smart windows to potentially influence areas like energy storage and conversion. This suggests that organisations within these sectors should be attentive to subsequent developments that might emerge.

Also, while the initial implementation of this technology might require investment, the long-term benefits are substantial. Lowered energy costs, increased property value, and alignment with sustainable trends present a strong economic and strategic case for the technology. For organisations looking to position themselves as progressive and environmentally conscious, this technology could significantly enhance their market presence and public perception.

This new dynamic window material may be more than just an advancement in smart windows, and could provide a gateway to greater energy efficiency, environmental responsibility, improved occupant comfort, architectural innovation, and a broader and beneficial technological impact.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Tidal Energy ‘Kite’ That Can Power A Town

Swedish startup Minesto has developed a subsea ‘kite’ style mini power plant that generates renewable energy from tidal streams and ocean currents.

How It Works 

The ‘wing’ technology, described by Minesto as a kind of “subsea kite” and a “powerful, lightweight, and modular power plant” which can be made with a wingspan ranging from 4.9 – 12m and weighing from 2.7 – 28 tonnes. Anchored to the seabed by a long cable tether, it sits in the sea and ‘flies’ across the main flow direction of the tidal streams and currents just like a kite flies in the air.

The wing technology uses the hydrodynamic lift force created by the underwater currents to move the kite around and its onboard control system autonomously steers the kite (using rudders and elevators) in a predetermined figure-of-eight trajectory. This has the effect of pulling kite and its turbine through the water at a flow that’s several times higher than the actual stream speed. This maximises the power it can generate and reduces the size of the kite and rotor required to collect the energy compared with a fixed turbine.

The turbine shaft inside the kite turns the generator which outputs the electricity to the grid via a power cable in the tether and a seabed umbilical to the shore.

Harnessing A Reliable And Inexhaustible Resource 

As highlighted by Minesto on its website, a balanced renewable energy mix is needed for the world to move towards a sustainable future energy system. Tidal streams and ocean currents are reliable and inexhaustible, available all over the globe, and are a rich source of energy that can be converted to a reliable and local source of renewable energy. This is why an easy to deploy and effective technology that can harness and use this endless resource (such as a simple kite system technology) could be a low cost and effective way to produce renewable (green) energy anywhere around the world (the ocean covers 71 per cent of the earth’s surface).


Also, unlike wind and solar, tidal streams and ocean currents are predictable, i.e. they’re caused by the gravitational forces exerted on the earth by the moon and are continuous and directional. This reduces risk and makes it easier in terms of control for the deployment of tidal power technology, such as Minesto’s wing/kite design.


The fact that the kites are a modular design which can be easily latched and unlatched (via the tether) to the seabed anywhere means that the system is easily scalable, simply by using hundreds of them across an area.

Real World Applications 

So far, Minesto reports that its wing subsea power generators have been delivering electricity to the Faroe Islands’ power grid since 2020 and, in 2022, Minesto commissioned the first power plant in Vetmannasund, Faroe Islands.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation?

As Minesto rightly says, the world’s very necessary shift away from fossil fuels for power will involve developing and scaling a mix of innovative renewable energy solutions that make the most of existing natural resources such as wind, water, and sun. Also, with the UK being an island nation subject to tidal activity, in world where more roughly 71 per cent of the surface of the planet is covered by ocean, with its strong, constant, predictable tides, it does seem to be an area with the ability to supply vast amount of naturally generated energy if the right technology is deployed.

The advantages of the wing idea are that it can be easily and relatively cheaply deployed around the world, is scalable simply by multiplying the number used, can be placed far enough below the surface so as not to become a hazard or eyesore, and the technology is ready to go now. That said, these are relatively small turbines and even with many of them, there’ll still be a need for a mix of other ideas and solutions to harness the power of the waves.

These ideas will need to be part of wider mix of sustainable and renewable energy generating schemes that between them can offer enough power to seriously cut carbon emissions. Furthermore, they’ll need to supply the considerable energy needs of homes and businesses, provide power that’s affordable, have a low environmental impact, and thereby help the world to meet its climate targets as quickly as possible while still supporting the growth of the world’s economies.

As Minesto says, its wing solution ads a “step of energy conversion” that “expands the global tidal and ocean currents’ extractable potential.” 

Sustainability-in-Tech : London Data Centres To Heat New Homes

A new £36 million UK government project is to use data centre waste heat to provide heating and hot water to 10,000 new homes and 250,000 square metres of commercial space in London.

Using Heat From Data Centres 

Data centres in our digital society and cloud-based business world now play a crucial role in supporting countless industries, businesses and services. However, the increasing demands upon them mean that getting enough power across to them plus finding ways to provide effective cooling and dealing with the surplus heat generated are two major challenges.

The new project, therefore, will provide a way to re-distribute some of the surplus heat so that it benefits the community, advances sustainability, and supports London’s efforts to reach net zero city by 2030.

Heat Network 

The £36 million funding award will support the commercialisation and construction of a district heat network scheme that is expected to deliver 95GWh of heat across 5 phases between 2026 and 2040.

The Old Oak Development 

The new, major urban brownfield regeneration project has been named ‘The Old Oak Development’ because it includes the Old Oak HS2 and Elizabeth Line interchange areas and will be operated by the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation in the London boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham, Brent, and Ealing. The Old Oak Development, which covers three London Boroughs, and a brownfield development, and which will create 22,000 new jobs, has been enabled thanks to a wider £65m award from the government’s Green Heat Network Fund (GHNF) to five projects across the UK.

Data Centre Heat Delivered Via Plastic Ambient Network 

The scheme will involve harnessing/recycling the surplus heat from two (as yet unnamed) data centres within the Old Oak/Park Royal area. The data centres will supply ‘low grade’ waste heat (i.e. between 20°C [68°F] and 35°C [95°F] ) via a plastic “ambient” network. The network will supply heat pumps that raise the temperature to Low Temperature Hot Water “LTHW” which will be piped via a traditional steel network to a mixture of new and existing residential buildings.

David Lunts, OPDC’s Chief Executive said of the scheme: “Recycling the massive amounts of wasted heat from our local data centres into heat and energy for local residents, a major hospital and other users is an exciting and innovative example of OPDC’s support for the mayor’s net zero ambitions. 

We are excited to be leading the way in developing low carbon infrastructure, supporting current and future generations of Londoners in Old Oak and Park Royal to live more sustainably.” 

Jo Streeten, Managing Director, Buildings + Places – Europe and India, AECOM re-iterated the importance and benefits of the project, saying: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the new communities emerging within the OPDC area to lead the way in how our cities can operate more sustainably, by using the waste heat sourced from data centres.”  

Previous Data Centre Controversy 

This positive news for homes and business contrasts with reports from July last year that data centres’ huge power demands were putting such acute pressure on the west London grid, that new home-building projects had to be halted because not enough power could be sent to substations, i.e. local data centres were using all the power.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

How to deal with the heat produced by the ever-growing demand on and for new data centres, particularly since generative AI chatbots came along is a significant issue. This project, therefore, is an example of a way to put the heat to good use for the community and businesses rather than wasting it, thereby providing hopefully cheaper and abundant supplies of heat (albeit in a limited area), giving a greener and more sustainable way to heat homes and businesses, plus helping to meet London’s ambitious target to become a net zero city by 2030.

That said, although the local West London data centres can provide surplus heat for the project, as concerns from last year show, their huge energy requirements in the first place is a problem in itself both in how to supply it in a greener way and in the negative impact on local area housing developments, i.e. local data centres using so much power that demand for new home projects can’t be met.

This scheme, however, is one of many new, innovative, and welcome ways around the world to use the surplus heat from data centres for homes and businesses, although tackling the initial issues of how to meet data centres’ enormous power demands with cleaner and more sustainable energy and not just relying on offsetting, and finding effective cooling solutions for data centres remain major challenges.

Sustainability-in-Tech : New AI Model Classifies Energy-Wasteful Homes

A new deep-learning AI algorithm, developed as part of a study by the University of Cambridge, can identify and classify ‘Hard to Decarbonise’ houses (energy-wasting homes) with 90 per cent accuracy.

What Are ‘Hard-to-Decarbonise’ Houses? 

Hard-to-Decarbonise (HtD) houses/buildings are really a subset of residential structures that present unique challenges in reducing carbon emissions due to their design, old age, construction, location, or the behaviours of occupants.

Why Are They Such A Problem? 

These buildings are significant because they account for a sizable portion (roughly a quarter) of all homes and are responsible for over 25 per cent of direct residential sector emissions. As the urban population looks set to swell, ensuring these buildings’ sustainability has, therefore, become critical to meeting the global carbon reduction goals.

Why Hasn’t This Problem Been Tackled Effectively So Far? 

The effort to decarbonise HtD buildings has been marred by several issues. Historically, for example, there’s been a lack of focus on identifying and studying these specific types of buildings, with much of the research skewing towards general energy usage and efficiency. This gap has made it challenging to develop targeted strategies for their upgrade and retrofitting. Also, the identification of HtD buildings has, up until now, been complex and reliant on detailed and varied data that has not been readily accessible or sufficiently prioritised (so far) in energy performance datasets.

Also, technological and economic factors have compounded the difficulty. For example, HtD homes often require more sophisticated and expensive work to make them more energy efficient, which may not be feasible given current technological and economic constraints. This is problematic for not only meeting emissions targets but also for addressing social issues like fuel poverty, where the least efficient homes are often inhabited by those least able to afford their retrofitting.

A New Approach – With The Help Of AI 

The new approach developed by the University of Cambridge, uses deep learning to classify HtD buildings. The research team has reported that their new AI-based method for the classification of HtD buildings can achieve an overall precision of 82 per cent on the building level.

The new method uses publicly available data – a dataset of HtD houses (in Cambridge for the test), organised with criteria derived from the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) which results from detailed inspections of houses. Street view images (SVI), aerial view images (AVI), land surface temperature (LST), and building stock data are also used together for the prediction with deep learning.  The AI model at the heart of the new method is also able to reach its classification of buildings by pinpointing the parts of a building which are losing the most heat, e.g. the windows and the roof, and whether a home is old or modern.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

With so many UK homes being energy inefficient and a major source of carbon emissions, plus the pressing need to decarbonise the residential sector by 2050, yet with identification and classification of HtD buildings being too complex and reliant on data that hasn’t been accessible or sufficiently prioritised (so far) in energy performance datasets, a new method that appears to work is very welcome.

The recent breakthrough by the University of Cambridge in utilising AI trained to identify hard-to-decarbonise buildings using open-source data (a first) is a big step forward that could provide policymakers with a fast and effective way to audit and find out just how many houses they have to decarbonise.

As Dr Ronita Bardhan, the head of Cambridge’s Sustainable Design Group and co-author of the study has pointed out, this new and better tool for targeting energy inefficiency within the residential sector could help direct policymakers identify the high-priority houses, thereby saving them precious time and resources. This new method means that AI could, therefore, provide a way to make better decarbonisation policy decisions, and make serious inroads into reducing the stubbornly high emissions of this sector, thereby also providing a better chance of meeting decarbonisation targets.

Additionally, this progress in AI and building analytics could offer a competitive edge by promoting data-driven decision-making in real estate development, urban planning, and energy policy. As tech companies continually seek to leverage their expertise in data handling, the AI model’s adaptability to identify HtD homes based on open-source data streams such as EPC, SVI, AVI, and LST can be integrated into existing and future tech solutions.

The discovery of this new method (model), which the Cambridge researchers appear confident they can significantly increase the detail and accuracy of over time is an advance in corporate social responsibility. However, it’s only just been tested and the imperative now is to harness its potential and translate it into actionable strategies that yield measurable results in decarbonising the residential sector, aligning with global sustainability commitments, and reinforcing the role of innovative technology in societal advancement.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Fossil Fuels Peak as Solar & Wind Rise

Independent energy thinktank Ember’s Global Electricity Review 2023 reports that fossil fuel power generation has peaked for the half the world and that clean energy sources now account for nearly 40 per cent of the world’s electricity supply.

Five Years Ago 

Ember’s review report, which analyses electricity data from 78 countries representing 93 percent of global electricity demand, says that 2022 marked the peak for power sector emissions, the largest worldwide source of planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2). According to Ember’s figures, this means that the world experienced its first ever annual drop in the use of coal, oil, and gas to generate electricity (other than when in global recession or during the pandemic).

Wind And Solar Up 

One of major changes highlighted in the review which has contributed to a fall in power sector emissions is the rise of solar and wind as power sources. For example, following Solar’s share rising by 24 per cent on 2021 and wind power’s share rising by 17 per cent, they now represent a record 12 per cent of global electricity generation last year, up 10 per cent from 2021.

Renewable energy sources and nuclear power combined represented a 39 per cent share of global generation last year, with Solar’s share rising by 24 per cent (enough to meet the demand of South Africa) and wind by 17 per cent from the previous year.

The growth in wind and solar in 2022 met 80 per cent of the rise in global electricity demand.

Other Influences 

Ember suggests that another influence on the now general downward trajectory of fossil fuel power generation may be the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For example, spiking fossil fuel prices and security concerns about relying on fossil fuel imports may have made governments look to other energy sources, and may have accelerated electrification, e.g. more heat pumps, electric vehicles and electrolysers. Ember says these will drive reductions in emissions for other sectors, leading to more pressure to build clean power more quickly.

Carbon Emissions Rose As Rising Demand Met From Less Clean Sources 

Despite fewer warming gases being produced and the electricity produced last year being the cleanest ever, a rise in global electricity demand and some countries meeting that demand with less clean sources led to a rise in carbon emissions. For example, some old coal-fired power stations were brought back into service to meet demand, causing coal generation to grow by 1.1 per cent.

It also worth noting here that the UK government appears to be planning to meet demand in some less clean ways with the first new coalmine for three decades getting the go-ahead last December, and in July, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak attracting criticism by granting hundreds of new North Sea oil and gas licenses.

Other Problems 

Ember’s review also noted that although, if taken together with nuclear and hydropower, clean sources produced an impressive 39 per cent of global electricity in 2022, nuclear and hydro electricity’s contribution was hampered by (for example) many French reactors being offline, and Europe’s rivers too low (in many places) for hydro generation.

China Promising

With China emitting 27 percent of global carbon dioxide and a third of the world’s greenhouse gases, one promising aspect of Ember’s review was that although China is the world’s biggest user of coal power, it also produced 40 per cent of the world’s new solar power and 50 per cent of new wind power last year (and 20 per cent of all solar panels installed worldwide). This could indicate that it may achieve that peak in coal generation earlier than 2025 and move towards cleaner sources.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Ember’s findings of a transformation occurring from last year in the global power sector is promising and marks a pivotal moment, heralding a shift away from fossil fuels towards cleaner, more sustainable energy sources. The findings of Ember’s review, appear to show that world is moving in the right direction, with fossil fuel use for energy generation appearing to have reached its peak.

This appears to be testament to the growing adoption of renewable energy sources, with solar and wind power leading the way. The clean energy sector accounting for nearly 40 per cent of of the world’s electricity supply is a major milestone in our journey towards a more sustainable future but this transition is not without its challenges. The decline in fossil fuel generation, while promising, is just the first step in a long journey towards a net-zero power sector by 2040 and a net-zero global economy by 2050, and some would say that this journey needs to happen a lot faster.

The task ahead requires not just the continued growth of clean energy sources, but also addressing complexities like grid stability (if it’s relying mostly on solar, wind etc), financing in underdeveloped economies, supply chain capacities, and political resistance from affected regions. These may be critical factors that need urgent attention and innovative solutions to ensure a smooth and equitable transition.

There’s certainly plenty of optimism in Ember’s review (i.e. that fossil fuel generation will decline by 0.3 per cent  this year) with bigger falls in subsequent years (as more wind and solar comes online). However, a European Commission report released this month was much less optimistic, saying that the EU area must cut its carbon emissions three times faster to meet its targets. Therefore, it may depend upon which report you read and which part of the world you’re in at this crucial time of transition as to how well things are going with emissions targets.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Giant Solar Space Farm By 2035

Oxfordshire based Technology firm, Space Solar, says that giant solar panel farms could be in orbit and operational above the Earth by 2035.

The Challenge 

There are significant energy and environmental challenges facing everyone, including the fact that global electricity demand is set to double by 2050. This, together requirements to swap fossil fuel reliance with new affordable, continuous, sustainable, flexible, and green energy generation technologies mean that the world is facing some major challenges to meet the Net Zero goal.

Space-Based Solar 

Space Solar believes that its space-based solar power idea is a credible answer to these challenges and should take the form of 2km-long farms of solar panels, orbiting the earth and sending energy to receivers on earth in a similar way to how satellite broadband operates.

Advantages Over Ground Based Solar 

Some of the main advantages of having the solar panels space is that there’s no footprint/no space taken up on earth (apart from the receivers). Additionally, there can be a constant (24/7) supply of clean solar power from space that is unaffected by the weather, seasons, or time of day. Furthermore, in space, solar panels could produce much more renewable energy than terrestrial equivalents for the reasons just given.

The lack of atmosphere and weather means that the sun’s rays are around ten times stronger in space than on earth. In fact, it’s been estimated that space-based solar would use half the land area of terrestrial solar farms (it would still need receivers), and one-tenth of the area of offshore wind farms but would produce 13 times more renewable energy.

European Space Agency (ESA) Plan

The idea of space-based solar has already received an endorsement in the form of the European Space Agency (ESA) unveiling its own plan for a space-based solar farm 36,000 km above the Earth. Announced last year, its SOLARIS proposal was intended as a way to test the feasibility of the concept of using giant solar panels to send solar energy (as supposedly ‘safe’ microwaves) to collecting ‘rectennas’ on Earth’s surface, so that Europe could make an informed decision in 2025 on whether to proceed with a space-based solar Power programme in the future (and to ensure that Europe becomes a key player).

The UK government is also reported to be investing £5m in an international project called CASSIOPeiA, aimed at studying space-based solar power.

Viable Technology 

Space Solar and the European Space Agency (ESA) both believe that the technology appears to be viable (as confirmed by independent government-led studies), and with the help of re-usable space launches could be economically viable too. The company says its goal is to be able to “deliver 20 per cent of Earth’s energy supply using 600 satellites”.

Just 12 Years 

Space Solar believes that its space solar farms will be ready by 2035, saying on its website: “In 12 years, Space Solar will deliver an affordable, scalable and fully renewable new baseload energy technology” adding that that this will “create a safer and more secure world where clean energy is available to everyone, for the benefit of all life on earth”. 

Isn’t It Getting Crowded Up There? 

It’s estimated that there are over 3,300 operational satellites orbiting Earth at any one time as well as 128 million pieces of debris smaller than 1 cm, around 900,000 pieces between 1-10 cm, and around 34,000 of those larger than 10 cm. For large space infrastructures like orbiting solar farms, for example, debris mitigation and protection measure would, therefore, be a crucial consideration.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The promise of viable nuclear fusion still appears many years away and the need to decarbonise our energy sources is becoming increasingly urgent.

Replacing fossil-fuels with a sustainable and affordable clean alternative such as space-based solar must surely appeal as one of the cleanest ideas.

With plenty of room up there (provided space junk can be avoided), together with the promise of 24/7 supplies being conveniently beamed to earth from solar farms (which produce 13 times more renewable energy than earth-bound versions) does indeed sound attractive.

There seems to be some consensus that it is technically (and hopefully economically) viable and if, as Space Solar believes, it could be ready in 12 years, this could be one way to plug the gap in clean energy requirements before nuclear fusion reaches viability. Space-based solar must be as close to zero-carbon (apart from the rocket launches) as you can get and, if adopted at scale, could aid the electrification of countries around the world, change the energy industry, change fossil fuel industries, and potentially boost many of the world’s economies.

Space-based solar could, therefore, not only help us to take a step closer in the journey to meeting Net-Zero global targets but could provide the world with a safe and effective way to harness the natural energy of the sun like never before.

It’d probably be wise not to get in the path of the microwaves though.

Sustainability-in-Tech : AI Energy Usage As Much As The Netherlands

A study by a PhD candidate at the VU Amsterdam School of Business and Economics, Alex De Vries, warns that the AI industry could be consuming as much energy as a country the size of the Netherlands by 2027.

The Impact Of AI 

De Vries, the founder of Digiconomist, a research company that focuses on unintended consequences of digital trends, and whose previous research has focused on the environmental impact of emerging technologies (e.g., blockchain), based the warning on the assumption that certain parameters remain unchanged.

For example, assuming that the rate of growth of AI, the availability of AI chips, and servers work at maximum output continuously, coupled with chip designer Nvidia supplying 95 per cent of the AI sectors processors, Mr De Vries has calculated that by 2027 the expected range for the energy consumption of AI computers will be of 85-134 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity each year.

The Same Amount Of Energy Used By A Small Country 

This figure approximately equates the amount of power used annually by a small country, such as the Netherlands, and half a per cent of the total global electricity consumption. The research didn’t include the energy required for cooling (e.g. using water).


The large language models (LLMs) that power popular AI chatbots like ChatGPT and Google Bard, for example, require huge datacentres of specialist computers that have high energy requirements and have considerable cooling requirements. For example, whereas a standard data centre computer rack requires 4 kilowatts (kW) of power (the same as a family house), an AI rack requires 20 times the power (80kW), and a single data centre may contain thousands of AI racks.

Other reasons why large AI systems require so much energy also include:

– The scale of the models. For example, larger models with billions of parameters require more computations.

– The vast amounts training data processed increases energy usage.

– The hardware (powerful GPU or TPU clusters) is energy intensive.

– The multiple iterations of training and tuning uses more energy, as does the fine-tuning, i.e. the additional training on specific tasks or datasets.

– Popular services hosting multiple instances of the model in various geographical locations (model redundancy) increases energy consumption.

– Server overhead (infrastructure support), like cooling and networking, uses energy.

– Millions of user interactions accumulate energy costs, even if individual costs are low (the inference volume).

– Despite optimisation techniques, initial training and model size is energy-intensive, as are the frequent updates, i.e., the regular training of new models to stay state-of-the-art.

Huge Water Requirements Too – Which Also Requires Energy

Data centres typically require vast quantities of water for cooling, a situation that’s being exacerbated by the growth of AI. To give an idea how much water, back in 2019, before widescale availability of generative AI, it was reported (public records and online legal filings) that Google requested (and was granted) more than 2.3 billion gallons of water for data centres in three different US states. Also, a legal filing showed that in Red Oak, just south of Dallas, Google may have needed as much as 1.46 billion gallons of water a year for its data centre by 2021. This led to Google, Microsoft, and Facebook pledging ‘water stewardship’ targets to replenish more water than they consume.

Microsoft, which is investing heavily in AI development, revealed that its water consumption had jumped by 34 per cent between 2021 and 2022, to 6.4 million cubic metres, around the size of 2,500 Olympic swimming pools.

Energy is required to operate such vast water-cooling systems and recent ideas to supply adequate power supplies for the data centre racks and cooling have even includes directly connecting a data centre to its own 2.5-gigawatt nuclear power station (Cumulus Data – a subsidiary of Talen Energy).

Google In The Spotlight

The recent research by Alex De Vries also highlighted how much energy a company like Google would need (it already has the Bard chatbot and Duet, its answer to Copilot) if it alone switched its whole search business to AI. The research concluded that in this situation Google, a huge data centre operator, would need 29.3 terawatt-hours per year, which is the equivalent to the electricity consumption of Ireland!

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Data centres are not just a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, but typically require large amount of energy for cooling, power, and network operations. With the increasing use of AI, this energy requirement has also been increasing dramatically and only looks set to rise.

AI, therefore, stands out as both an incredible opportunity and a significant challenge. Although businesses are only just getting to grips with the many benefits that the relatively new tool of generative AI has given them, the environmental impact of AI is also becoming increasingly evident. Major players like Google and Microsoft are already feeling the pressure, leading them to adopt eco-friendly initiatives. For organisations planning to further integrate AI, it may be crucial to consider its environmental implications and move towards sustainable practices.

It’s not all doom and gloom though because while the energy demands of AI are high, there are emerging solutions that may offer hope. Investments in alternative energy sources (such as nuclear fusion) although it’s still in its very early development (it’s only just able to generate slightly more power than it uses) could redefine how we power our tech in the future. Additionally, the idea of nuclear-powered data centres, like those proposed by Cumulus Data, suggest a future where technology can be both powerful and environmentally friendly.

Efficiency is also a key issue to be considered. As we continue to develop and deploy AI, there’s a growing emphasis on optimising energy use. Innovations in cooling technology, server virtualisation, and dynamic power management are making strides in ensuring that AI operations are as green as they can be, although they still aren’t tackling the massive energy requirement challenge.

Despite the challenges, however, there are significant opportunities too. The energy needs of AI have opened the door for economic growth and companies that can offer reliable, low-carbon energy solutions stand to benefit, potentially unlocking significant cost savings.

Interestingly, AI itself might be part of the solution. Its potential to speed up research or optimise energy use positions AI as a tool that can help, rather than hinder, the journey towards a more sustainable future.

It’s clear, therefore, that as we lean more into an AI-driven world, it’s crucial for organisations to strike a balance. Embracing the benefits of AI, while being mindful of its impact, will be essential. Adopting proactive strategies, investing in green technologies, and leveraging AI’s problem-solving capabilities will be key for businesses moving forward.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Microsoft’s Green Concrete In Data Centres

As part of its commitment to be carbon negative by 2030, Microsoft is trialling cement containing microalgae-based limestone in its data centre builds.

The Issue For Microsoft 

The main issue for Microsoft is that it needs to decarbonise its data centre builds by reducing the amount of ‘embodied carbon’ in the concrete used to build its data centres, thereby helping it to hit its green targets. Embodied carbon is the measure of the carbon emitted during the manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and disposal of a product or material (in this case, concrete).

The Issue With Traditional Concrete

The issue with traditional concrete is that its embodied carbon is responsible for around a massive 11 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions!

Most of the emissions associated with concrete are the result of the key ingredient of cement being limestone. For example, traditional Portland cement is produced by quarrying limestone in large quarries and burning it at high temperatures (heating it with clay around 2,650 degrees Fahrenheit) which results in the production 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide every year! Also, Portland cement, the most popular kind of cement, uses ground (quarried) limestone. The quarrying process not only produces massive amounts of damaging greenhouse gasses, but also has a serious environmental impact. Although Portland Cement typically forms 7 to 15 per cent of a concrete mix by weight, it can contribute 80 to 95 per cent of the embodied carbon in concrete.

What Is Microalgae-Based Limestone And How Can It Help? 

Microalgae-Based Limestone, often referred to as a “biogenic limestone,” is produced (in the lab) from microalgae such as coccolithophores, which has a cloudy white appearance. These microalgae produce the largest amounts of new calcium carbonate on the planet at a much faster rate than coral and do so by capturing and storing CO2 from the atmosphere in the form of calcium carbonate shells that form on their surface. By replacing the quarried limestone with this naturally produced biogenic limestone (which also stores carbon from the atmosphere) in a concrete mix, Microsoft aims to find a mix design that can lower embodied carbon in concrete by more than 50 per cent compared to traditional concrete mixes.

Pilots Under Way 

With this in mind, Microsoft already has a pilot under way in Quincy (Washington) for biogenic limestone concrete mix.

Microsoft is also experimenting with a concrete mix with fly ash and slag that are activated with alkaline soda ash, and with both the alkali activated cement and biogenic limestone.

Signed An Open Letter 

Amazon (AWS), Google, Meta, and Microsoft all recently released an open letter on the iMasons (Infrastructure Masons) website, which calls for action to use greener concrete in data centre infrastructure and encourage other companies to join them.

Other Investment 

Microsoft’s Climate Innovation Fund, which was launched in 2020, also invests in early-stage companies engaged in work to find solutions that could cut the amount of embodied carbon in concrete and other building materials to zero.

For example, one early investment was in ‘CarbonCure,’ which deploys low carbon concrete technologies that inject captured carbon dioxide into concrete, where the CO2 immediately mineralises and is permanently embedded as nanosized rocks within the physical product. This acts both as both a carbon sink and a way to strengthen the material, enabling a reduction in the amount of carbon-intensive cement required.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation?

Microsoft’s pursuit of greener concrete through micro-algae-produced biogenic limestone shows how its leveraging its influence partly to meet its own targets, but also for a more sustainable future. Their initiative not only aligns with their overarching objective to achieve carbon negativity by 2030, but also seems to underline a broader vision of constructing markets and technologies that facilitate the decarbonisation journey. If a way could be found to completely replace quarried limestone, the prize could be a potential reduction of 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually, a game changer in the global fight against climate change. Also, the mass production of microalgae not only sequesters more carbon but also promises multiple environmental benefits like improved air quality and reduced quarry-induced damage.

The prospect of seamlessly substituting biogenic for quarried limestone without compromising product quality, combined with the potential economic benefits from microalgae by-products, does sound very promising.

Drawing from insights like those of the iMasons Climate Accord, the path forward appears to need collective industry efforts, innovative research, and consistent progress measurements. If Microsoft’s pilot experiments manage to pinpoint the ideal green concrete mix, it could help revolutionise the building industry, let alone help Microsoft to decarbonise its own data centre builds. This could significantly curb greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation linked to cement and concrete production (which is something that’s much needed).

Pioneering efforts by Microsoft and the other big tech companies that published the open letter may not only advance their own sustainability goals but could potentially present effective and sustainable solutions for the greater good of the planet.

Sustainability-in-Tech : Smart 5G Street Lamps Trial Smart Street Lights

Six areas across the UK will receive funding to trial a new multi-purpose smart street lamps that house EV charging hubs and boost wireless coverage including 5G.


As part of The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT’s) Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme (SIPP) to level-up digital connectivity, six councils will receive funding for the smart street lamps pilot. The funding for the £1.3 million pilot, which will run from October to 31 this year to March 2025 and is designed to test next-generation digital technologies, will range from £165,000 to £250,000 per council, with the local authorities expected to invest a further collective £2.7 million.

Why Smart Street Lamps?

The rising demand for wireless services, the need to speed up the rollout of 5G and free public Wi-Fi to enable the UK to catch up with other countries, together with the need to dramatically expand the EV charging network to overcome battery limitations and boost EV purchases have led to many different ideas being explored. Examples of options considered by companies include the installation of infrastructure on lamp posts, traffic lights, CCTV columns, benches, bins, and bus stops because they are already sited in large numbers across the UK and are particularly prevalent in towns and city areas.

The Benefits 

In addition to boosting connectivity, the infrastructure installed on streetlamps as part of the pilot scheme can be adapted to carry out a range of functions, e.g. from charging EVs to monitoring air quality, and from displaying public information to saving energy with street lighting. The benefits include:

– As the Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure Sir John Whittingdale points out: “digital connectivity – and a world-class wireless infrastructure will be the foundation for the jobs, skills, and services of the future.”

– The ability to adapt the smart infrastructure to carry out a range of functions could enable councils and combined authorities to unlock new opportunities and improve public services, e.g. from rolling out electric vehicle chargers to boosting business growth and helping keep streets safe.

– Being able to charge EVs from streetlights could provide confidence in the charging infrastructure (overcoming “range anxiety”) that could help boost EV sales in the UK. However, Rishi Sunak’s recent announcement that the government would push back the ban on new fossil fuel vehicles from 2030 until 2035 has been criticised for the possible negative impact it could have on EV infrastructure investment and EV sales.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The UK is lagging behind in terms of 5G and the availability of free public Wi-Fi, much to the frustration of UK businesses. Also, EV sales aren’t living up to expectations, partly because of the lack of a charging infrastructure of an adequate scale. In addition to these challenges the government is aware that a better wireless infrastructure could boost the economy, jobs, skills, and services, and although extended, the target date for a ban on new fossil fuel vehicles (2035) still seems very close.

All these challenges have put pressure on the government to try new ideas and come up with some fast solutions that won’t cost the earth. Adding connectivity infrastructure as an adjustable bolt-on to existing, widely available architecture like lamp posts, traffic lights, CCTV columns, benches, bins, and bus stops, could therefore be a way to tackle all these challenges at once. Clearly, it’s worth the investment to find out, and each of the six local authorities (which are also investing) are, no doubt, also hoping that this idea may offer them an innovative way to improve their public services and create new opportunities. If the pilot is successful, and once the new connectivity infrastructure is added to lampposts (which would be a major project in itself), businesses may start to feel the economic benefits, the economy could see a vital boost, and the EV industry could also start to grow more quickly.

Sustainability-in-Tech : ‘Cobots’ To Restore Reefs

With many of the world’s coral reefs being damaged by heat and acidification, one startup has developed a system to restore reefs at scale with the help of trained AI robots..

Coral Reefs Struggling 

The world’s coral reefs only cover 0.2 per cent of the seafloor, but they provide a vital habitat to more than a quarter of marine species. Coral reefs, however, are currently in decline due to climate change (leading to ocean warming and acidification), overfishing, pollution, coastal development, and disease. All these factors have led to coral bleaching events (a sign of stressed corals) and have hindered coral growth and reproduction, thereby disrupting the balance of reef ecosystems.


The grim warning from scientists is that even just a 1.5C increase in water temperature could result in anywhere between 70 per cent and 90 per cent of the world’s reefs being lost (Global Coral Reel Monitoring Network), which could have dramatic effects on the ocean ecosystem.

Coral Skeletons 

Coral Maker is a startup, founded by Dr Taryn Foster, that seeks to tackle the problems being faced by coral. To do this, the company uses a combination of innovative technology and science to help scale up the restoration rate and success of coral reefs through transplanting tiny, cultivated corals into damaged reefs.

Coral Maker mass produces premade stone coral skeletons which, when deployed as part of its system, helps to significantly reduce the number of years of coral calcification (skeletal growth) required to reach adult size. The skeletons consist of coral fragments grafted into small plugs and inserted into a moulded base.

The system, which can be deployed close to the reefs where it’s needed enables the low cost and fast production of 10,000 premade coral skeletons per day, each with the capacity to hold 6-8 coral fragments. The system’s carbon footprint is reduced by using recycled stone waste from the construction industry and the fact that the skeletons can be produced close to where they’re needed reduces transportation emissions.


Since the idea is to rejuvenate reefs at scale using thousands of coral skeletons per day, each positioned in the same way, the repetitive nature of the manufacturing of these base skeletons is work is suited to robots. Coral Maker’s system, therefore, automates its coral propagation by using robotics and AI (supplied by San Francisco based engineering software firm Autodesk).

These automated robots, designed for onsite deployment at the restoration site, and designed to collaborative with people (freeing up humans to do more complex work) have been dubbed ‘cobots’ (because of the collaboration). The pre-trained cobots are essentially AI powered robotic arms that can graft or glue coral fragments to the seed plugs and place them in the bases.

Use Vision Systems and AI To Decide How Best To Handle Coral 

The cobots have their own vision systems which, combined with AI, enables them to decide how best to grab the bases. This vision technology is needed because each piece of coral, even within the same species is slightly different and living coral fragments are very delicate.

Next Step – Put The Robots On Boats 

The next step for the company (estimated to take 12-18 months) is to find a way to successfully enable the robot arm ‘cobot’ to be deployed on a boat right next to where it is needed on the reef without any of its vulnerable components being damaged by salt water, and in a way that keeps it stable enough to carry out its delicate work.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

The earth’s coral provides a vital habitat to more than a quarter of marine species. Losing our coral would mean a loss of many species and biodiversity, and the complete disruption of marine food webs and ecosystems. There would also be other impacts, e.g. economic (a decline in fisheries and tourism), and a loss of the potential to find new pharmaceuticals. Reefs also act as a coastline buffer and with so many large storms associated with climate change, having no living reefs could actually result in more coastal flooding. It’s clear, therefore, that something has to be done very soon to restore reefs damaged by heat (warmer water temperatures) and acidification. Coral Maker’s system, combining as it does technology and science, gives many benefits, e.g. large areas can be covered quickly as time is saved by using pre-formed skeletons, it uses recycled materials, plus it can shipped and operated anywhere. This makes it a credible way to start trying to reverse some of the damage done to reefs, thereby safeguarding the vital habitats and ecosystems that support so much marine life.

This is a great example of how technologies like AI and robotics can make an important and positive difference in a way that benefits all of us. The hope is that if the cost of the system can be kept low enough, and there is enough investment (money and human capital), and the ‘cobots’ can be made to work effectively on boats (which could take more than a year), the system, and other ideas can be put to work in multiple locations as quickly as possible.