With Australia Burning, We're Learning IoT Lessons


Australia, along with other places, including the US (California), Canada, Russia and the Amazon, continue to experience unprecedented destruction from massive fires. New technologies and consortiums building those technologies are being developed to address the prevention and fighting of fires, many which are caused by climate change.

Predictive mapping, artificial intelligence, drones and sensors that feed the IoT are contributing to new ways to identify and actively manage fire risk, while also helping combat the spread of fires when they spark.

Data needed for mass fire prevention is being pulled from a range of sources and analyzed to leverage everything from real time weather data to historical weather data, satellite images, sensors placed in strategic locations, cameras and more, including “crowd sourcing” information that helps first responders understand risks faster so the odds of controlling fires increases.

California’s One Concern, for example, has partnered with city governments, including LA and San Francisco, to create digital models combined with monitoring of climate data as well as seismic activity across sensor-based networks collectively built to span California’s vast open spaces, as well as hills and mountains near developed communities (for example, the tragic Malibu fire in 2019).

The Linux Foundation has stepped up to advance more collaboration and ideas to help combat the climate change that is contributing to the growth, duration and damage done by increasingly large fires, and making them more difficult to combat.

From heat waves in the Middle East to hurricanes in the Atlantic to droughts in East Africa, the past decade has seen a slew of catastrophic natural disasters caused by climate change, which inspired the establishment of the Foundation’s LF Energy, a non-profit organization bringing the energy industry together to jointly develop technology solutions to climate change.

While Australian bushfires, which burned for months in 2019, are the first major disaster heading into the new decade, it won’t be the last. With thousands of Australians displaced and a billion animals lost, the climate emergency is clearly no longer a problem of the future, and Dr. Shuli Goodman, the Executive Director of LF Energy, believes the time to act is now.

We caught up with Dr. Goodman and asked her how the Australian bushfires can serve as a major wake-up call to governments, citizen and businesses worldwide

Q: How do you think the Australian bushfires can serve as a major wake-up call to governments, citizens, and businesses worldwide?

A: The climate crisis will look differently everywhere; some areas will be more profoundly affected. It is challenging to have a perspective about the scale and scope of the problem that climate change poses. Some people think that the consequences of climate change are decades away, but for others, such as those in Australia, the climate crisis has already begun.

We all need to pay attention to these bushfires and to take them as a clear warning sign to consider how the next decades will unfold. We are going to see mass-migrations and major catastrophic events all over the world, similar to the Australian bushfires. Governments and businesses need to work alongside utility companies to provide the support and incentives necessary if we want to stand a chance to achieve our 100% global decarbonization.

Q: What challenges does the world face as the energy industry strives to supply the clean energy, we need to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050? Will taking action make our lives better or safer, or will it only make a difference to future generations?

A: Most of us feel powerless to affect change. Yet, we must in small and large ways. Increasingly, those in the west will have important choices to make in order to reduce their carbon impact to the optimal 3 tons of carbon per person. Right now, the global average is closer to 5. But, the US, Canada and Australia are around 16 tons per capita, and the average EU country is around 7.5 tons. To reach this 3 ton goal, there must be a significant shift in what we eat, our consumer footprint, how we move around, and what natural resources we believe we have a right to. This is particularly true in the US and also China, that have the largest carbon footprints on the planet.

And, right now we are working against a ticking clock. From grid replacement to green tech innovation, the utility sector has an overwhelming amount of work to do to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Additionally, these utility companies do not have the resources and workforce needed to tackle these challenges alone, but now is not the time to back down from the challenge.

What open source allows, is the use of commodity hardware and open source software in a way that can facilitate huge transformation. It also allows reuse and reinvention rather than continually recreating the base layers of technology. Open source allows contributors to think smart and think about the power of together. And, one of the great things about open source is the democratization of innovation. Anyone is welcome to take something that was created somewhere else and reinvent, recreate, add to it, modify it, and customize it to meet your conditions. By utilizing open source, the energy industry can join forces, accelerate innovation and supply clean energy globally before it is too late.

Taking this action and utilizing open source to increase access to clean energy will certainly make a difference to future generations by limiting the impact of climate change, but it can make our lives better and safer right now. To start, these energy innovations will lead to electric mobility. By electrifying transportation and developing the infrastructure to handle its spike in use, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint in the next three decades.

These clean energy innovations will also increase energy access to the billions of people who have little to no access to energy or clean energy. With these innovations, we can create economies that work in alignment with the natural laws of the universe, rather than against them. And, as we transform our beliefs and ideas about energy and power, it will shift our relationship to those things at a personal and societal level. This transition - by it's distributed and decentralized nature - will produce a greater democratization with regards to energy and power.

Q: How will measures to cut carbon emissions affect the life of people in terms of cost?

A: Right now, clean energy is finally able to be cost competitive with natural gas, coal and oil. The costs of dirty energy don’t even include the costs and externalities - such as wars and pollution - associated with gas, coal, and oil, which are essentially underwritten by governments.

Getting a clear economic picture is challenging, because the fossil-fuel industry has been able to externalize true costs for so long. Renewables after capital costs are essentially free. And, we can reduce the costs even further. At LF Energy, we assume that the energy transition will end up representing a huge shift in the underlying economics of energy. That’s a great thing and will super-charge innovation in the process. The revolution will be in radical energy efficiency. The notion of waste that does not recycle to feed the future will become anachronistic.

Q: How can using open source technologies allow energy companies to share ideas and reduce costs to develop green technology we need more quickly?

A: Renewable energy is variable - meaning a cloud can pass and shade a PV panel, or the wind may not blow. This is in contrast to a coal fire plant, which is constantly generating as long as you feed the plant. The reason this is important, is that the switch is going to require the ability to move electrons from places that have energy, to places that don’t, and to be able to manage market signals in a manner that enables network operators to “orchestrate” or shape energy in terms of loads and resources. This is entirely digital. Open source will provide the common base layers - like the internet, or telecommunications, or automotive, who all use shared plumbing. Energy companies can use open source technologies to accelerate innovation, facilitate interoperability, and ensure security thereby reducing development costs through permissive IP and collective investment.

Q: What are the benefits of emerging technologies like listening devices, drones and micro-grids for vulnerable areas?

A: When it comes to vulnerable areas, advanced technologies allow for decreased costs and constant surveillance of infrastructure. And thanks to IoT, emerging technologies are cheaper to maintain because early detection mechanisms work to eliminate costs of failure. By adding emerging technologies, and ensuring they remain up and running, vulnerable areas can easily access the electricity needed for day-to-day life.

Q: What would you like to tell utility companies to take the first step and work together using open source to speed up this process and developing the green infrastructure we need?

A: Join us at LF Energy. We are curating an entire stack that addresses functional requirements and capabilities across the entire value-chain - markets, transmission, distribution, generation, electric mobility, carbon accounting, and demand side flexibility. At LF Energy we provide neutral governance coupled with infrastructure and events, as well as a training and capacity building platform to ensure that utilities develop the skills to engage in collaborative innovation. We are curating a community to become the gravitational center to offset the noise from the current Tower of Babel. As a planet - we must focus! Through this network, utilities, suppliers, vendors, and advanced tech companies can easily share ideas to develop the green infrastructure using fewer resources than if they worked alone.

Juhi Fadia is an engineer, analyst, researcher and writer covering advanced and emerging technologies.

Edited by Ken Briodagh
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