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How the Energy Industry Is Using Data to Decarbonize Itself

Climate change has put pressure on industries from fashion to food to adopt more sustainable production methods and philosophies.

The global imperative to slash carbon emissions is felt especially keenly in the energy industry, where firms are remaking the landscape by deploying a mixture of big data and existing technology to pursue radically efficient, sustainable energy production.

Emmanuel Lagarrigue, chief innovation officer at the French multinational Schneider Electric, speaking at Fortune’s Global Sustainability Forum in Yunnan, China on Friday, outlined his company’s plan to use big data to improve electric vehicle charging infrastructure, with one foot in China and one in the U.S.

The company has invested in two startups, one in California and one in Shenzhen, which collect data from electric vehicles on the road and use that information to make better infrastructure decisions, such as where to place EV charging ports in cities.

“Energy is one of the few industries which is now ripe for that type of disruption.” Lagarrigue said.

China consumes twice as much electricity as the U.S. and produces 40% of the world's renewable energy; half the electric vehicles in the world are on Chinese roads. To take advantage of this, Schneider plans to work with “technological leaders” in China and export the technology to other countries.

“The consumption of electricity will double in the next 20 years, probably before that,” Lagarrigue said, adding that the electric vehicle industry will make up just 8-9% of that, compared to data centers, which will account for around 30% of electricity use.

Like Schneider’s use of data to increase EV efficiency and save energy, Chinese manufacturer Broad Group focuses on ways to improve sustainability by increasing the efficiency of existing resources.

Although Broad Group prioritizes sustainable development, it is not betting on mass electrification like Schneider; rather, it has designed sustainable products around existing industries that use natural gas.

Broad Group produces air-conditioning units that run on waste heat from power generation and industrial processes, which makes them environmentally-friendly and energy efficient.

“Every field has these huge untapped potentials.” Zhang Yue, the chairman and president of Broad Group, said at the forum.

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—Watch here: Fortune Global Sustainability Forum 2019 livestream
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—Dow CEO Jim Fitterling has a counter-argument to the plastic backlash
—Former Sinopec chairman says Chinese executives think climate change can wait
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