Soumac WOW blog – How Google Maps will help authorities monitor pollution in big cities

Having already been trialled in several major US cities, Google is now rolling out it’s pollution-tracking technology in the EU  – with the tool set to be used in Birmingham, Manchester, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Dublin & Coventry.

Using Google maps Google’s Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE) tool, authorities will be able to track 4 major areas:

  • Building emissions
  • Transport emissions
  • General emissions
  • Solar potential

It’s hoped that with the data authorities will be able to identify more ways to reduce emissions in major cities.

In our latest WOW blog, Soumac explores how the technology works and its possible applications in the future:

Where does the data come from?

EIE is based on the same information collated by Google Maps. The data in EIE is anonymous and combined with other data sources to create useful environmental insights. Authorities will be able to access any array of information, including: aggregated location history data, building outlines and overhead imagery. Using this information, authorities will then be able to identify environmental issues, to come up with solutions and deliver a lower-carbon future.

How is the data collected?

General emissions

Using EIE’s Green House Gases (GHG) inventory tool, authorities can combine a series of factors, such as transportation, industrial activities, waste management and agriculture to determine their city’s emissions baseline. From here, authorities can then look into more specific emissions, such as building & transport, to identify areas for improvement.

Building emissions

To calculate building emissions, Google considers a variety of proprietary factors, including floor space data – collected from Google Maps, imagery & 3D modelling – as well as taking into account greenhouse gases produced by a building’s electrical consumption and stationary combustion, for example. Using all this data, authorities are then able to view how much building emissions are contributing towards a city’s carbon footprint, to then identify ways of reducing it.

Transport emissions

Using its own proprietary data, Google can identify trips that that take place within a city; while using National Travel Survey’s to estimate the number/type of vehicles travelling and distances travelled annually. Finally, using fuel efficiency and emission factors sourced from CURB: Climate Action for Urban Sustainability tool, EIE is able to provide a numerical prediction for transport emissions.

Solar potential

Using Google’s Project Sunroof tool, EIE uses earth imagery to analyse roof top space, as well as considering other factors such as local weather patterns in order to estimate a city’s potential capacity for solar panels.

In order for a building to qualify as having ‘solar-potential’ it must have enough room for at least 4 adjacent solar panels & be able to receive at least 75% pf the maximum annual sunlight in the area. It should be noted that buildings such as car park roofs or fields are not included in the final number for solar potential.

To find out more about EIE, click here.

Similar projects

In Copenhagen, Google has been running a similar project – specifically looking at transport emissions in the city. Denmark’s National Centre for Environment and Energy has estimated that around 550 Copenhageners die prematurely every year from pollution. Project Air View will help Copenhagen to tackle the pollution problem by using Google’s Street View cars, fitted with sensors to & cameras, to monitor pollution and build a map of air quality in the city.

If trials continue to go well, it’s hoped that EIE will be rolled out worldwide, to help many more countries tackle pollution in major cities. However, as with any new technology – it’s difficult to know how accurate Google’s predictions are, and how many cities will actually act on the stats. Only time will tell how effective the technology is in bringing about actionable change.

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