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AI and going carbon neutral
by Mark Smith

The trouble with being curious and working in technology is that the whole work-life balance evaporates. So ContactEngine's journey through AI inevitably became my personal journey too.

I don't mean to boast, but in my spare time I'm building a house. It's not often you do that, so I figured I could merge my love of tech, the environment and AI into bricks and mortar.

It’s possible, right now, to clad an entire building with technologies that can generate power without the need for burning fossil fuels. You can put solar panels on the roof and install ground and air source heat pumps to warm you up and cool you down. Insulation is cheap as chips – especially if you're building the actual walls. And there is even new, transparent solar panel technology, so you could make every window that has light through it into a tiny power station. Stick some wind turbines on top, triple glaze, add some big old batteries (solar power is crap at night) and you are not only making yourself 'off grid' but you'll be generating a big surplus too. Win, win, win.

But here's the problem, you have to manage all this in a micro-personalised way. There’s no point in making power only to chuck it away. And here we get to the reason there is a post about carbon neutral homes on the ContactEngine blog: this is a perfect mission for AI heroes. In your home, the AI will learn your habits – such as what time you get up and go to bed, when you cook, where you go and when you'll be back – and manage power generation and distribution accordingly.

If the UK adopted the same rules as those recently announced in California, requiring new homes built after 2020 to have solar panels (but not just solar panels – let’s go for it properly, people), then we could see entire estates of carbon-neutral, new-build houses with their power needs coordinated by AI.

With sensors in each house, the AI could learn the normal usage patterns of each property. Some homes will be empty much of the day with the occupants leaving early for work and coming back in the evening. Others, where somebody works from home or a parent stays at home with young kids, will use power through the day. But each house will generate roughly the same amount of power, so the AI could automatically redistribute it from the homes that have surplus to those that have a deficit. And guess what: the wiring between neighbours is already present, it's called the national grid!

Since the power generation is free, there wouldn’t need to be a cost element to this. That said, to encourage people into the scheme, perhaps those with a surplus could sell it on to their neighbours? The UK Government does pay micro-generators a modest amount per kilowatt hour for their excess, but much less than you buy for. The AI Heroes could also bring in other tech – if you have an electric car, the AI could draw on that battery storage when it needs to and ensure the car was charged up again before you need it.

For this to happen here in the UK, things need to be joined-up more effectively at a planning level. There are various schemes, such as government subsidies for solar (and other green tech), but nobody seems to be thinking about how the pieces fit together. Companies tinkering with silly light bulbs, or whatever fad the Internet of Things throws up (one more story about intelligent fridges and I'm going postal), are obsessing over trivia when they could be coming up with ways to solve massive and meaningful societal problems.

You can see examples of the lack of joined-up thinking with electric cars. There are numerous suppliers running charging points and you need to be a member of every one to use them, which is nuts. Imagine having to be a member of every petrol station before you could fill up!

At the Tube station where I used to park, the charging stations were in the spaces closest to the station entrance. Guess what? Yup, lazy carbon generating fascists would nick the space for their gas guzzling, lung poisoning motor cars, rendering the charging stations about as useful as a chocolate tea pot. Either there should have been a penalty for taking the space with a non-electric car or the chargers should have been as far away from the station as possible – ‘cause we green sorts are always fitter sorts too ;-).

I'll let you know how it goes, once I've connected everything up and persuaded my AI team that their voluntary work at weekends should be to help me save the planet. Let's see if we can't begin a quiet green tinted revolution? Starting at my place, obvs.

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