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Electricity Maps calculates the carbon intensity of electricity consumption to optimize consumption at scale

If you’re an electricity geek, chances are you’ve already spent a few hours watching Electricity maps and its enchanting export flow animations. This open source data visualization project it’s been around since 2016. But companies like Google and Samsung are increasingly relying on this rich data set to achieve their sustainability goals and empower their own users.

Currently, 20 people work for Electricity Maps, and the company has been profitable for several years. But TechCrunch has learned exclusively that it recently raised $5.4 million (€5 million) from Transition and Revent, take things to the next level by investing in the product and business. Electricity Maps is now both a data visualization tool and a business API for data-driven decarbonization — and one wouldn’t work without the other.

Founded by Olivier Corradi, a French and Danish entrepreneur and data scientist who previously worked for voice assistant startups Snippets, Electricity maps started out of a desire to learn more about the production and consumption of electricity. «There were articles in the press saying that Denmark worked on 100% renewable energy for one day. So I was wondering if it was true and how long it took—how many hours in a day,” Corradi told TechCrunch.

Image credits: Electricity maps

Electricity Maps collects real-time data for electricity generation in more than 50 countries around the world. While the company uses open data sources, employees and community contributors had to build dozens of parsers to standardize this data.

Since renewable energy sources depend on weather conditions (especially for wind and solar energy), the mix of energy sources is constantly evolving. This means that the carbon intensity of the energy produced also changes depending on the time of day and current conditions. And, as you may have guessed, as electricity acts like tap water flowing through a vast network of pipes, CO2 the emissions associated with the electricity you use can vary widely.

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Calculation of CO2 emissions can be complicated, as there are also many cross-border flows of electricity — some countries produce more electricity than they actually consume, while others have greater electricity needs than generation capacity. Electricity Maps has designed its own flow tracking model to understand which power plant is contributing to the electricity you are currently consuming.

“We will process all of that in our system with what we call a flow tracking algorithm, which allows us to tell you where the electricity is coming from, depending on where you are. It can be produced locally, but it can also come from Germany. But Germany imports from Poland, so it could potentially come from Poland, etc. So we have to do some modeling,” Corradi said.

The company also stores historical data and uses machine learning algorithms to provide 24-hour forecasts. Just as weather APIs are a big industry now, electricity forecasting APIs could become key business tools in the future.

Electricity Maps founder and CEO Olivier Corradi. Image credits: Electricity maps

From carbon intensity to load change

The reason the open source data visualization project is an essential part of the company is because Electricity Maps wants to achieve as much consensus as possible. Calculation of life-cycle emissions for electricity production requires peer-reviewed studies.

The company shares all its sources for emission factors. It also means that these calculation methods can evolve over time as researchers publish new studies with more precise results. The community can discuss and submit potential changes that will affect the Electricity Maps data.

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On the commercial side, knowing the carbon intensity of the electricity available at a certain place and time can be a kind of superpower.

«With all the targets for installing renewable energy sources, we will find ourselves in a world where the amount of intermittent renewable energy will triple by 2030,» Corradi said.

“The good thing is that this demand is flexible because it will be electric cars and you can change the time they charge. It will be AI training and you can choose the time to train these big models,” he added.

Image credits: Electricity maps

Google, one of the most important clients of Electricity Maps, joined together with a European startup to calculate the carbon intensity of the electricity that powers its data centers.

For some tasks, such as crawling the web or training a new artificial intelligence model, Google may use Electricity Maps data for load shifting. When there is more wind, it is time to start additional servers. Or when it’s nighttime in the US, Google can move some computing-intensive operations to European data centers.

But Google’s own customers will also benefit from the company’s partnership with Electricity Maps. With the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, many companies will soon be required to publish carbon accounting reports. As many companies rely on Google Cloud for their hosting needs, they will need data to calculate Scope 3 emissions. Thanks to Electricity Maps historical data, carbon data will be more accurate.

Samsung, another client for Electricity Maps, uses the startup’s data to show users the electricity consumption and carbon footprint of their Samsung devices. In this case, it is more about educating the user.

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But electricity maps are much more than an educational tool. It can act as an information layer that decides whether it’s a good time to turn on millions of electrical devices — or, at least, whether it’s a good time to have as little impact on the planet as possible.

Why is a profitable company growing? The funding injection is aimed at increasing Electricity Maps’ own impact by giving it the gas to meet growing demand for smarter climate tools, according to Corradi. «The reason we mentioned is simply that the amount of renewable energy now in the system is becoming so significant that you start to have the opportunity to activate the flexibility of the devices you have at home or in the industrial sector. «

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