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Artificial intelligence - a new weapon in the fight against climate change?

ECCI’s Head of Innovation Charlotte Waugh recently embarked on a year-long secondment with the Bayes Centre, the University of Edinburgh's world-leading data science and artificial intelligence centre.

She runs an AI and blockchain accelerator programme jointly run by the Bayes Centre and WAYRA. WAYRA was set up by Spanish company Telefonica to work with start-ups to generate innovative solutions for its business.

Charlotte is using her extensive experience of supporting low carbon enterprises at ECCI to kick-start the new accelerator. We caught up with her in the midst of DataFest - the UK’s first two week festival of Data Innovation in Scotland - to find out what she's been up to.

Having moved roles recently from climate change innovation to artificial intelligence (AI) innovation support, I asked myself the question: where are the opportunities for artificial intelligence to help the fight against climate change? The answer, I am discovering, is that there are plenty!

AI and blockchain can be difficult topics for people to warm to – a bit scary, in fact. Here are some quick definitions:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) is fast becoming core to the technology industry. It is a highly technical area of computer science which aims to create intelligent machines by programming human-like traits such as perception, reasoning, problem solving, learning and planning.
  • A blockchain, initially showcased by the global digital currency Bitcoin, is characterised by a publicly accessible and reliable ledger of transactions. Blockchain systems manage relations between stakeholders in the form of “smart contracts”. A number of applications are being explored by a growing number of start-ups and established companies, in health data processing, identity management, land ownership registries and energy management.

These technologies offer us many benefits. When it comes to climate change, AI technology can enable consumers to engage with the agenda and make better choices through predictive and ‘push’ technologies. It can make interaction more personal, quicker and more fun.

AI also makes it easier and more efficient for energy market analysts and participants to understand highly complex data - from the behaviour of electrical power grids to climate change impact.

AI and blockchain also make it easier to design good policy incentives by giving us a deeper understanding of consumer behavior and decision-making processes. In terms of climate change adaptation - adapting to climate change and mitigating its impacts - implementing quick responses to climate change-related emergencies requires intelligent systems and the clever use of data. AI is key to delivering such systems.

It's clear to me that climate change and AI need to work hand in hand if we are to move to a vibrant zero carbon future. It's great to see several innovative start-ups supported by ECCI who are combining the two fast-growing areas of data and low carbon innovation to make a tangible difference - and make a living!


Boxergy is a distributed energy management system, supported through ECCI’s Climate-KIC Accelerator. It aggregates capacity from local heat pumps to provide heat and hot water at lower costs. Successful entrepreneur and Boxergy creator, Jim Laidlaw, wants to make a difference by encouraging the adoption of renewable power generation.


Equiwatt CEO Johnson Fernandes plans to ‘Uber-ise’ the energy market using digital technology. The Newcastle-based company, supported by the Climate-KIC Accelerator programme at ECCI, has developed an innovative platform and smart hub technology. It pays households for saving energy when the grid is under stress. They recently made it thorugh to the finals of the Rising Stars technology start-up competition, securing their place among the most exciting start-ups in the UK.


Michael Shaw’s product Farm-Hand is an affordable smart irrigation system that provides ‘right-time, right-volume’ irrigation to crops. Aimed at farmers in water-stressed India, it uses smartphones to change wasteful practices like leaving water pumps on all day. The start-up was supported by ECCI’s Climate-KIC Accelerator programme.

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