The world has woken up — global, business, and government leaders acknowledge that global climate is changing. In early 2015 the United States senate voted 98–1 that “climate change is real and not a hoax.” Pope Francis has made unprecedented strides to affect climate action with a papal encyclical on climate change. Academics continue investigation into energy forecasts — a recent Stanford study proved it’s possible to convert the US to complete renewable energy by 2050 — influencing the Solution Project, a social awareness campaign to transition the world to 100% clean, renewable energy.
While there is still much more to be done, 2015 is a pivotal year — with renewed momentum encouraging a global focus on reducing carbon emission worldwide. Players in the tech space are on the forefront of innovation on this frontier, developing more efficient, renewable technologies to replace old wasteful modes. From rethinking energy reliances, integrating micro sustainability measures into apps and devices, and producing hybrid and full electric motors to transform the transportation industry — the transformation has already begun.
APIs or application programming interfaces are an important cog in this revolution. Fueling the software behind many new green measures, APIs help monitor air and water qualities, expose carbon emissions data, and enable smart connections that spread important knowledge on the environment worldwide. Today we explore efforts encouraging a green Internet, and discover green APIs that developers can incorporate into apps to promote sustainability to help curb negative environmental effects, from a global perspective to an individual consumer level.
What is a ‘Green API’?
For the sake of this article, a Green API is an API built with the intent of advancing sustainability, environmental awareness, or specific climate action initiatives — ideally hosted using renewable energies. There are many data services with APIs that encourage these goals, also described as cleanweb development — the use of IT tools to reduce carbon emissions.
Cloud Computing Can Decrease Carbon Emissions
If not in a mythical “cloud,” then where is the Internet, exactly? Large data centers — gigantic computing banks, many in undisclosed locations, are the true location of data and computation power in our virtual world. The New York Times notes that “most data centers, by design, consume vast amounts of energy in an incongruously wasteful manner.” Diesel polluting data centers in Silicon Valley make up a portion of these data centers, which worldwide consume energy roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.
“The energy consumption of the digital domain is already estimated at 10% of worldwide generated electrical power.”
-René Post, Co-Founder and Chairman of The Green Web Foundation
Throughout his work and research, René Post of The Green Web Foundation has found that “often companies do not realize what they do with their data center, how much power they actually use. When they do, often they are willing to take a few steps.”
Rather than have a localized data center, there are benefits to outsourcing data computation — cloud computing can still decrease carbon emissions. Writing on the climate impact of data center, Jeff Barr, Chief Developer Evanaglist at Amazon, notes that AWS cloud customers on average reduce carbon emissions by 88%.
Moving Toward a 100% Green Web
Encouraging clean web computing is vital for progressing climate action in it’s entirety. The Green Web Foundation, a Dutch non-profit, has a mission to transform the Internet to run on 80% completely renewable energy within the next 5 years. To that end, the foundation hosts a directory of 440 hand-vetted green hosting companies in 62 countries, offering domain green validation with a web app, browser extensions, and a simple Greencheck API that allows developers to integrate green domain checks into apps — such as a page modification add-on to filter search out grey energy hosted search results. As René Post told Nordic APIs:
“The aim of the green web is to speed up the transition towards an Internet run on green energy. Our thinking goes like this: if we cannot do that on the Internet — the most dynamic and visible part of our economies where the end-user can expect to have the most influence on what suppliers do — then the future looks bleak. So we have to succeed.”
Hopefully, one day the Internet will run entirely on renewable energy. “The Green Web Foundation believes that day should be within reach, and develops tools to speed up the transition towards a green Internet.” Their simple validation API has already spawned integrations, such as Ecograder, EcoHostReviews, and a Dutch hosting comparison application.
Open Data Can Influence Change
In order to advance environmental awareness, we need to monitor the energy usage and emission statistics of businesses around the globe. For transparency in business emissions — over 20 million companies can be accessed via the AMEE APIs, including carbon efficiency ratings, carbon emissions, and sustainability and business ratings. AMEE, which stands for “Avoidance of Mass Extinctions Engine” enables developers to “calculate the energy intensity and carbon emissions of various activities such as transport, materials, electricity, manufacturing processes” to automate impact estimation into third party apps.
We must also track power plant emission to discover which methods are producing the most detrimental environmental effects. CARMA, an initiative by the Center for Global Development, supports CO2 monitoring for action, offering a REST based interface to return emission data on major power plants world wide.
Transportation: APIs Designed to Decrease Carbon Footprint
Some APIs empower individuals to choose alternatives to reduce their carbon footprint:
- The Open Charge Map is a public registry of electric vehicle charging locations all over the globe. The growing non-profit community maps the nearest charging stations and exposes the data with an API to allow developers to add to their own maps.
- The Walkscore web, Android, and iOS app accepts a city or neighborhood and returns average walk scores. The Walkscore APIs can be used to incorporate data services into such as walk score rating, bike score, transit score, and more into third party apps.
- The Brighter Planet API similarly empowers consumer choice by allowing apps to assess the environmental impact of a wide variety of activities and transportation — offering carbon and energy impact quantification for cars and flights through a RESTful interface with JSON and XML outputs.
Cutting Down Consumption At Home
There are many APIs that can be used to create software that decreases home consumption:
- The Genability APIs give detailed estimates on power consumption and associated costs, with the goal to decease consumption and cost, and motivate home owners to turn to smart energy providers.
- The Berkley of California Cool Climate carbon footprint calculator — a tool that allows households to calculate their carbon footprints, offering an API for developers to integrate CoolClimate data tools into applications.
- The Home Energy Saver API, an initiative funded by the US Department of Energy to help homeowners and home energy service providers.
Monitoring Global Energy, Air, and Water Quality
Sensors and IoT devices play a huge role in tracking energy consumption as well as monitoring water quality, and air pollution:
- Air Quality Egg, for example, aggregates consumer sensors to create a community driven world wide air quality index, freely accessible for developers via an API.
- A similar initiative by developmentseed offers a REST API on GitHub that aggregates air quality data from DustDuino devices.
- The City of Chicago offers a water quality data streaming program that enables access to water temperature and turbidity, and more data.
- The Breezometer API opens up a global air quality data database.
- The U.S. Energy Information Administration has an active API that allows developers to read a huge amount of data on U.S. electricity usage.
APIs Encourage Renewables With Data and Education
Some tools are dedicated to providing cost savings estimates paired with environmental benefits from renewable energy system installations. The Clean Power Research group creates interactive data driven software for the space. Their suite of APIs include the PowerBill API for analyzing energy value, their Clean Power Estimator API to offer financial analysis for solar projects, and their SolarAnywhere API to provide irradiance data (sunlight predictions based off geographic positioning) to be integrated into applications that encourage solar alternatives.
“APIs play a critical role by enabling the growth of distributed generation technologies such as solar by accessing rate and incentive calculators, solar resource data, etc., to streamline quoting and sales, and by making it possible to integrate incentive and interconnection application processes.”
-Heather Van Schoiack, Marketing Manager for Clean Power Research
Eco Labeled Products Bring a Market Advantage
Conventional businesses have seen tremendous pressure lately as consumers boycott non-environmentally-friendly products. As a response to this global concern for environmental protection, hundreds of independent groups — many non-profits — have been created to provide third-party environmental impact due diligence. Over 400 hundreds of these ecolabels are stored in the Ecolab Index. Their database spanning roughly 200 countries can be — you guessed it — accessed via a REST API.
Green APIs Are Advancing Climate Action
Though changing our fundamental behaviors is the base requirement for climate action, smart green APIs assist by spreading vital knowledge on global pollution levels and suggesting clean energy alternatives. For the individual, APIs are in the background, distributing sensor data to empower sustainable home energy consumption techniques or alternative transportation. For developers, green APIs can be integrated into software to help guide the adoption of renewable technologies, recommend alternative transportation methods, and discover a market advantage that your consumers will respect.
“Developers on their side can do a world of good if they understand marketing and can plug new add-ons into networks of people.”
– René Post, Co-Founder and Chairman of The Green Web Foundation
APIs, fueling the web and connecting IoT devices, are at the forefront of smart clean energy innovation — powering the necessary transformation toward clean energy ideals. The API community can contribute to positive environmental change.