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Microsoft and ENGIE announce innovative renewable initiatives

CHICAGO – Sept. 24, 2019 – Microsoft Corp. and ENGIE today announced both an innovative, long-term solar and wind energy power purchase agreement (PPA) that provides 24/7 supply in the United States and implementation of Darwin, an energy software developed by ENGIE using the intelligent cloud services of Microsoft Azure to optimize performance of ENGIE’s wind, solar, and hybrid (wind + solar) renewable assets worldwide.

The hybrid renewable deal will see Microsoft purchase a total of 230 MW from two ENGIE projects in Texas, bringing Microsoft’s renewable energy portfolio to more than 1,900 MW. Microsoft will purchase the majority of the output from the new 200 MW Las Lomas wind project, which will be located in Starr & Zapata Counties in south Texas. Microsoft will also purchase 85 MW from the 200 MW Anson Solar Center project, which will be built in in Jones County in central Texas. Both projects will be operated by ENGIE and are expected to come on-line in January 2021.

“ENGIE’s ambition is to work with our customers and communities to lead the transition to a zero-carbon world,” said Isabelle Kocher, CEO of ENGIE. “We are proud to support Microsoft in its plan to increasingly meet its energy needs with renewable power, and to do so in a highly customized way to meet 24/7 demand over many years.”

The relationship between ENGIE and Microsoft will not only produce more clean energy in the United States, it also creates an example for how customers can procure it. This PPA includes an innovative volume firming agreement (VFA) that will convert the intermittent renewable energy supply into a fixed 24/7 power solution aligned with Microsoft’s energy needs.

In addition, ENGIE and Microsoft are advancing the digital transformation of the renewable energy sector. ENGIE’s Darwin software, currently deployed on more than 15,000 MW of assets globally, enables real-time plant monitoring and control, reporting, forecasting, performance monitoring and predictive maintenance, among many other benefits. Darwin relies on the latest Microsoft Azure intelligent cloud technologies such as IoT and artificial intelligence, including machine learning and cognitive services. Darwin has already enabled ENGIE to increase plant availability and to enhance production performance of up to a few percent on some of its assets.

With renewable energy expected to be the largest single source of electricity growth in the next five years, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), these kinds of data-driven solutions will become increasingly important. ENGIE alone has a program to build approximately 9,000 MW of new renewable energy projects from 2019–2021 globally, with 2,500 MW of new renewable capacity planned for North America. The company has an additional 10,000 MW of wind and solar projects in its broader development pipeline in the U.S. and Canada.

“Procuring more renewable energy helps transform our operations, but when we pair that with Microsoft’s leading cloud and AI tools, we can transform the world,” said Carlo Purassanta, area vice president, Microsoft France. “This agreement with ENGIE is an exciting step toward a low-carbon future, driven by capital investments and enabled by data.”


We are a leading world group that provides low-carbon energy and services. To tackle the climate emergency facing us all, our aim is to become the world leader in the zero-carbon energy transition “as a service” for our customers. We use our expertise in our key business areas (renewables, gas, services) to provide competitive and bespoke solutions. With our 160,000 employees, our clients, our partners, and our stakeholders, together we form a community of imaginative builders, striving every day to bring about a more harmonious form of progress. The Group is listed on the Paris and Brussels stock exchanges (ENGI) and is represented in the main financial indices (CAC 40, DJ Euro Stoxx 50, Euronext 100, FTSE Eurotop 100, MSCI Europe) and non-financial indices (DJSI World, DJSI Europe and Euronext Vigeo Eiris – World 120, Eurozone 120, Europe 120, France 20, CAC 40 Governance).

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Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

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Ambition is good; action is better: making progress on our climate commitments

The dialogue at this year’s United Nation’s Climate Summit has a refreshing air of sober reality. The urgency of the climate crisis has by now fully been absorbed, and the conversation has turned to the practical matter of what needs to be done to mitigate the worst impacts of a rapidly changing climate and adapt to that which we cannot avoid.

This means that the time of raised ambitions and grand announcements without clear action plans is also past. That is why we are focusing this week on new and specific contributions both inside and outside our four walls that have the potential to meaningfully impact environmental outcomes. We have been doing this work for more than a decade and, in April of this year, we doubled down on our ambitions with a clear focus on doing more where it makes the most difference — beyond operational changes and increasingly on how we put technology to work for the planet. With that in mind, I’m sharing several concrete developments and markers of progress, including:

  • Aligning our operations with a 1.5C climate scenario: It’s clear, given the science, that targets should be even more ambitious than the Paris Accord targets, which mapped to a 2 degree rise. Today, we’re pleased to say that our renewable energy target has been certified by the Science Based Target Initiative (SBTi) as aligned to a 1.5-degree Celsius future. The certification is meaningful for two reasons — first, we believe that actions should be driven by the best available science, and SBTi uses that as a core criteria for approval and second, because what is most important is not just setting targets — it’s meeting them. Science-based targets offer important measurement and accountability that is critical to assess if we’re making the progress the world needs, in the time frame we have available.
  • Extending carbon reduction work into our supply chain: Today, we’re setting a target reduction for our value and supply chain via our new SBTi-certified target, which will see us cut these emissions by at least 30 percent by 2030. Our supply chain, referred to in carbon accounting as Scope 3 emissions as indirect carbon emissions associated with anything from manufacturing to customer use of devices to employee airline travel, are far larger than our operational footprint. This is true for many companies and nearly all technology companies. We have already worked to drive transparency in this space, with more than 105 of our top suppliers reporting through the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), and will look to continue to do more in this space in the coming year.
  • Going from carbon neutral operations to carbon neutral products: Microsoft’s business operations have operated carbon neutral since 2012. Today we are beginning the journey of extending that to our products and devices with a pilot to make 825,000 Xbox consoles carbon neutral. These are the first gaming consoles to be carbon neutral. While just a pilot, we’re already looking at what we can do to further reduce and neutralize carbon across devices in the future.
  • Putting technology in the hands of others for the good of the planet: The investments we’ve made to make our devices and datacenters and supply chain greener are good for the planet but have exponential impact when the world is using these greener computing resources to power new AI breakthroughs for the planet. That’s why we’re continuing to expand our AI for Earth program with new grant partners like Conservation X Labs, National Geographic Society and World Resources Institute. We now have more than 430 grantees in 71 countries and just released our first APIs and code on our website and GitHub. The newest members of AI for Earth include the young leaders who participated in the Youth Summit’s Summer of Solutions.

It’s important to note that while we’ve made progress on several fronts, there is still much work to do within Microsoft to embed sustainability more deeply across the company and into all that we do. We are committed to doing this work and being transparent about our journey. And we’ll continue to work with external organizations like the Science Based Target Initiative and CDP, which have done so much to drive concrete, measurable change to hold us accountable and aligned to the best science.

This summit comes at a pivotal moment in time. I’m encouraged by the passion and participation I’ve seen already at the Youth Summit and new corporate announcements as well. It’s a welcome antidote to the fatalistic worldview that is all too easy to adopt when it comes to the future of the planet.

We must also not give in too easily to optimism unless it’s paired with real action. The road ahead will be challenging, and progress will certainly require everyone to do more. We’re committed to doing our part. Microsoft sees a responsibility and opportunity as a leading cloud and AI provider to play a major role in deploying solutions, applying capital and market power and reducing our sizable environmental footprint.

But progress is indeed possible. That’s not a naïve hope but one based on evidence: technology breakthroughs over the past few years, new work underway across our business, and a growing appetite from customers to digitally transform their businesses with sustainability in mind. We’re celebrating today in New York, and tomorrow we get back to work. I hope you’ll join us.

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How AI is helping elephants, orcas and other species

Elephants used to wander freely across Asia. Today, they roam through a fraction of the landthey used to. Athe human population growsAsian elephant habitat continues to shrink. In Africa, the story isn’t much brighter: In addition to dwindling habitat, the African elephant contends with an illegal ivory trade that kills more than 20,000 elephants a year. Conservationists and researchers are doing all they can. But with fewer than 500,000 elephants left worldwide, time is running out. 
That’s where programs like AI for Earth come in.  
AI for Earth grants are awarded to projects that change the way people and organizations monitor, model and, ultimately, manage Earth’s natural systems 
More than 300 grants have been given to projects in 60 countries. That’s good news for elephants  and other animals, too. See how researchers, conservationists and scientists are using Microsoft’s cloud and AI tools to understand diverse species and safeguard vulnerable animals.  


elephants in the wild
Larry Li from

Organizations like Conservation Metrics (with the Elephant Listening Project) use AI-enabled tools to help ensure a better future for the elephantsTo monitor and predict poaching threats, Conservation Metrics and the Elephant Listening Project use acoustic surveys, and Save the Elephants relies on GPS tracking collars.  

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Why a national land cover map matters, and how processing 200M images in 10 minutes will help

When we started AI for Earth, we had one simple but huge ambition – to fundamentally transform the way we, as a society, monitor, model and manage Earth’s natural resources.

That transformation will ultimately require collecting and processing exceptionally large datasets – an endeavor that can take a lot of time and money, even with advanced cloud computing and AI tools like deep learning. In part, these barriers have curtailed progress on important tools for conservation, like up to date land cover maps.

I’m excited to share that we’ve made a computing breakthrough that moves the needle towards real-time analysis of land cover data. We first shared the news at Build—Microsoft’s annual developer conference—and on Thursday and Friday of this week AI for Earth’s principal engineer Jennifer Marsman will be discussing our results in detail at an AI event in Paris.

Why does land cover mapping matter? There are three big reasons.

  1. Land cover mapping is the foundation of effective conservation and sustainable growth. Data is the lifeblood of conservation efforts; and to protect complex ecosystems, such as watersheds, conservationists need accurate and precise spatial data. Real-time, high resolution land cover maps can guide conservation efforts, but creating these maps using available imagery—and tracking changes over time—requires complex algorithms and computing resources.
  2. This foundation has been in shambles. The best available land cover map in the United States is at 30-meter resolution and eight years out of date. That’s because processing the explosion of satellite, sensor and aerial images is tedious and time-consuming.
  3. This situation is only going to deteriorate. We are now collecting geospatial data at an incredible rate. We need algorithms, and the hardware they run on, to be able to keep pace with the increasing speed of data collection.

Because this problem of up-to-date land cover mapping is so basic and so important, it was one of the very first projects we took on with AI for Earth, in partnership with Esri and the Chesapeake Conservancy. Using algorithms on Microsoft’s Azure platform and integrating with Esri’s ArcGIS spatial mapping software, the Chesapeake Conservancy and its collaborators in the Chesapeake Bay Partnership created an accurate, current land cover map of the Chesapeake Bay watershed at one-meter resolution—giving conservationists access to data with 900 times the information that was available before.

That’s great for the Chesapeake, but it still left the rest of the country to be mapped, a task that would require processing over 10 trillion pixels of imagery into categories like forests, fields, water, and urban areas. Until today, this would take a huge amount of time and manual resources.

Now, through Project Brainwave, we are capable of processing more than 20 terabytes of aerial imagery into land cover data for the entire United States in much less time, and for much less money, than existing solutions. We are using a new FPGA (field programmable gate array) chip solution in Azure, which can plow through nearly 200 million images in just over 10 minutes for a cost of $42. These results pave the way for organizations to produce new, high resolution land cover maps on infrastructure that can scale up or down for all sorts of problems around the world.

To be clear, algorithms need to be both fast and accurate, and there’s still a lot of work and testing to do on that front. Nonetheless, these speedy results are a good first step in empowering people to apply AI at earth scale. And, of course, land cover mapping is just one of over 100 projects in which we have invested – please check out our website:  for the latest updates on our grantees, projects and progress.

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How scientists are confronting environmental challenges with the help of AI

Counting trees

mountains trees and sky

Using AI and machine learning, SilviaTerra maps and monitors forests, yielding data about trees across the continental United States. The high-resolution, tree-level map of the United States is the first of its kind. It gives conservationists and landowners critical details to sustainably manage forests at a fraction of the time and cost of traditional surveys.

Growing more with less

man works in garden

Farmers face an uphill battle as arable land and water supplies dwindle, while the global population grows. FarmBeats, a program that uses Microsoft’s cloud and AI technologies to help farmers sustainably improve yields and lower costs, evaluates sensor data and aerial imagery against weather forecasts and crop predictions to enable data-driven agricultural practices.   

Identifying snow leopards by their spots

a snow leopard with mountain in the background
Photo by SLCF Mongolia/Snow Leopard Trust

Snow leopards are rare, with an estimated population of just 4,000 to 6,000 in the wild, and remote camera trap photography is one of the only reliable ways to study their behaviors. Historically, researchers have sifted through thousands of photos manually to find snow leopard images and use that data to protect the species from poaching, mining, climate change and other threatsNow researchers at the Snow Leopard Trust are using a Microsoft AI automation tool to automatically classify images in minutes rather than hours, combining years of data into a comprehensive database. This allows them to focus on advancing conservation science instead of manually poring through images.   

Protecting key watersheds

satellite data map
Photo provided by Chesapeake Conservancy

Scientists are using Microsoft’s AI and cloud technologies to create highly detailed maps to help conserve the world’s water resources. Chesapeake Conservancysupported by an AI for Earth grant, is working to integrate AI technology to produce high-resolution land cover and land use maps for precision conservations to improve water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With this data, the Conservancy is supporting progress in the restoration of the bay. 

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Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy creates a more sustainable future with AI and the cloud

With towers as high as 120 meters (390 feet) and rotor blades that span the height of a 22-story building, industrial wind turbines are challenges to inspect and maintain.

Traditionally, a wind turbine blade inspection required technicians to rappel down a stopped turbine in remote areas – sometimes at sea – to take pictures of cracks and faults in a turbine’s blades. Or it involved someone on land taking pictures with a telescope and camera. The work was often time-consuming and challenging.

But a year and a half ago, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, a global leader in the wind power industry, transformed the process with autonomous drones and a digital solution called Hermes. The aircraft capture high-resolution images quickly, while the solution analyzes images for potential blade damage, all resulting in safer, faster and more accurate inspections.

Based in Spain, the company is now further improving the solution by migrating it to Microsoft Azure and infusing it with Azure AI to process image recognition. The digital enhancements will enable Siemens Gamesa to streamline blade inspections even more, in its mission to make renewable energy more affordable and the future more sustainable.

Wind turbines in a landscape of snow and blue sky
Siemens Gamesa wind turbines in Norway.

“Hermes is taking a huge leap forward with the collaboration with Microsoft,” says Christian Sonderstrup, service chief digital officer at Siemens Gamesa, which has installed wind power technologies in 90 countries. “AI, cloud and big data enable us to move to the next level of performance, in terms of innovation and in lowering the levelized cost of renewable energy.”*

The drones, which will inspect 1,700 turbines this year, are fast, precise photographers, capturing about 400 images of a turbine’s three blades in 20 minutes. The images form an overview of blade condition and needed repairs, but the need to manually sort and stitch them has been a challenge. The laborious task was recently evident in a large inspection project involving 100,000 photos.

“We had someone looking into every one of these photos, and then every finding of a severe fault needed to be evaluated again by an engineer,” says Anne Katrine Karner-Gotfredsen, Siemens Gamesa manager of product integrity and warranty management in the company’s blade program.

Integrating Azure AI services will greatly speed up the process, with image recognition that can stitch images into an accurate model of an entire rotor in 34 seconds. The same job with manual stitching takes four to six hours and could lead to errors. AI tools can differentiate blades from water, sky and other irrelevant elements; distinguish cracks and faults from, say, bird droppings; integrate drone location and camera zoom data for precise stitching; and classify faults by type and severity.

“To review all the photos is a huge task,” says Karner-Gotfredsen. “Before Hermes, it was quite tedious to categorize and store all the data in a place that everyone can access. The more we can make it an automated process, the easier it is for us to work with the data.” Faster, accurate inspections mean less downtime of turbines, earlier detection of faults, better predictive maintenance and fewer costly repairs – all contributing to more affordable wind power.

Offshore wind turbines pictured with a beautiful sunset
Siemens Gamesa offshore wind turbines in the United Kingdom.

For Karner-Gotfredsen, the cloud will also help optimize projects like one she managed last year, involving a customer’s inspection of several wind parks. The data was difficult to share among Siemens Gamesa, the customer and a third-party reviewer, requiring Karner-Gotfredsen to send and receive it on a hard drive several times, along with cumbersome spreadsheets in email.

“The fact that we now can have the data going directly into Hermes with the cloud, without us having to carry hard drives, and having the data automatically sorted and stitched, saves us many people hours,” she says. “AI is augmenting the work our employees are doing, allowing them to focus on their core competencies.”

AI-powered blade analyses are also part of Siemens Gamesa’s goal to provide complete, 360-degree digital coverage of customers’ turbines. And they’re part of a digital strategy that focuses on productivity, digital extensions of current business offerings and new digital businesses. As Siemens Gamesa advances the strategy, it’s using Microsoft 365 and Azure as its IT foundation for developing new innovations that are scalable, robust and insightful.

“We aspire to be the digital leader in renewable energy,” says Sonderstrup. “AI, the cloud and big data are enablers of that journey.”

*Levelized cost of energy is the lifetime cost of an asset divided by the amount of electricity produced.

Top photo: Siemens Gamesa wind turbines in Morocco. (All photos courtesy of Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy)

Learn how Microsoft partners are building a sustainable future at Hannover Messe 2019.

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On World Water Day, Microsoft is delivering new approaches to ensure we leave no one behind

Today is World Water Day, and this year the theme is “Leaving no one behind.” This is a phrase oft-invoked, but it is particularly important when it comes to water because we are currently leaving 900 million people – much of the world’s population – behind when it comes to safe drinking water, and we’re trending in the wrong direction.

The UN predicts that by 2030, the world may face a 40 percent shortfall in available water. The causes? Climate change is making an already precious resource even more scarce, as rainfall becomes increasingly erratic with temperature changes. Demand is spiking, as the global population grows and consumes more water for farming, industry and personal consumption.

It is a daunting challenge, but a solvable one. It will require far greater understanding of the current state of water on the planet – the location, quantity and quality of freshwater reserves – and how (and how much) is currently being used and by whom. Then, we can use this information to drive efficiencies in delivery and consumption, incentivize behavior change on a local and global level and drive even greater innovation.

Water everywhere and not a drop to drink
Solving the water challenge begins with understanding where the most challenged areas are. Organizations like the World Resources Institute (WRI) and The Nature Conservancy are doing a great deal of work on this issue. The Nature Conservancy’s Protecting Water Atlas aims to drive better decision-making by showing the benefits of investments in water. WRI’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas shows both current and future conditions of where water-related risks are most severe, helping decision-makers understand and plan for potential changes in water availability due to climate change and economic development. Microsoft uses the WRI tool in both our global real estate portfolio planning and management and our climate resilience assessments, and supports The Nature Conservancy’s coastal resilience toolkit through AI for Earth and Azure credits.

It’s not just measuring risk – it’s about managing it through proactive approaches. This includes effective conservation measures. Water leakage is one area where improvements could make a big difference. In England and Wales alone, nonprofit organization Discover Water estimates that 3,183 million liters of water are leaked each day. That’s equivalent to filling 1,273 Olympic swimming pools per day! This isn’t a U.K. problem, it’s a global problem. The World Bank estimates that on average, 25 to 30 percent of a utility’s water is lost in the network, and in developing countries as much as 45 million cubic meters are said to be lost daily through leaks.

This prompted Powel, a European software solutions provider, to work with Microsoft to create an Internet of Things solution called SmartWater that can provide the ability to discover and react to these leakages early. The solution monitors water flow into a distribution system and in near real time, with the help of machine learning, detects anomalies so action can be taken.

Beyond conservation, some organizations are looking at water replenishment efforts motivated by the data. Microsoft is one of them. Through our early-stage initiative, we are identifying water-stressed areas around the world, the best partners in that region to collaborate with, and are making investments in projects that improve water conditions and alleviate water stress in those areas. That’s why one fall day last year, some Microsoft employees built beaver dams in Washington state. These beaver dam analogs offer water availability and quality benefits and represented our first public investment in this area.

We’re also engaging in collaborative platforms, such as the UN CEO Water Mandate, to identify opportunities to advance collective action to align and amplify the commitments of individual companies to contribute to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 6.

Beyond conservation to transformation
Water is one of the four key issue areas of our AI for Earth program, a $50 million, 5-year commitment to providing AI tools to researchers around the globe working on environmental challenges. More than 230 grantees are doing work, enabled by AI, in more than 60 countries on challenges related to water, as well as agriculture, biodiversity and climate change. Ultimately, these issues are interrelated – it’s difficult to solve any of the challenges in these areas without addressing others. Here are three grantees that are working across those disciplines, with AI, to drive new insights and behaviors, from algae blooms to precision agriculture with an eye toward water availability to predicting events like floods when we have too much water:

Providing early warning of harmful algal bloom outbreaks
For many years, the waters of Lake Atitlán in the Guatemalan highlands were pristine, a landmark for natural beauty and biodiversity. However, in 2009 the lake experienced the first of several harmful algal blooms (HABs) – out-of-control colonies of algae that suck oxygen out of the water and make it potentially toxic to life.

Africa Flores describes that first HAB in Lake Atitlán as a wake-up call for action to preserve its precious biodiversity. But Guatemala has limited resources and means to investigate and better understand the causes and help predict and prevent future outbreaks. Thankfully, Flores’ work as a research scientist at the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville allows her to focus on this very issue.

Flores and her team will conduct deep analyses on image datasets from different satellites. Machine learning will help them to identify the variables that could predict future algal blooms. Knowledge on what those triggers are can turn into precise preventative action, not just in the lake in Flores’ home country but also in other freshwater bodies with similar conditions in Central and South America.

Improving agricultural water use efficiency with AI
As climate change disrupts weather patterns, rainfall is becoming more unreliable. Farmers are drilling more wells for center-pivot irrigation – a method where crops are watered with sprinklers rotating around a central source. However, this approach can lead to lowered or even drained water tables, salination of coastal aquifers, land subsidence and disruption to ecosystems.

Kelly Caylor, a professor of ecohydrology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is investigating how much water is being used from these groundwater sources. He is developing a web tool that uses machine learning to identify active crop fields in satellite imagery and geospatial analysis tools to monitor how crops change over time. Knowing where the crops are growing and for how long, and then correlating that to weather data, the system can also infer how much water is being used.

With a better understanding of how much groundwater is used by center-pivot irrigation will come opportunities to develop more optimal and efficient practices, as well as policies for better water stewardship. With the online map and tools, farmers, water resource managers, policymakers and the public will be better able to make agriculture more land and water efficient.

Improving long-range forecasts for flood prediction
Climate change disruption to weather patterns sometimes means drought and sometimes means flooding. Already, a United Nations study has shown an increase in weather-related disasters since 1995, with floods accounting for nearly half. Climate change projections suggest that the frequency and severity of floods will increase in years to come as temperatures rise. And flooding threatens the most people in some of the countries least able to predict or prevent the devastation.

To make these regions more resilient, long-range forecasts for precipitation and flooding risk must be improved. Existing weather forecast models have been shown to routinely underestimate precipitation even the day before, and neither amount nor location can be predicted accurately five days in advance. But professors Wei Ding and Shafiqul Islam are leading a small team to develop machine learning models with the goal of accurately predicting floods up to 15 days in advance.

The team’s approach is to process enormous historical weather data sets and look for patterns that precede flooding. With this analysis, they plan to build a new forecasting model that can give early flood warnings to vulnerable populations around the world. More accurate and timely predictions will help reduce the overall impact of these disasters.

Transformations don’t have to be fueled by AI to make a difference. Microsoft is also making it easy for you to get engaged – just watch some Minecraft! Our team has been hard at work at the “Village and Pillage” update, which includes a redesign of water wells. This weekend, we’re supporting the nonprofit Charity: Water effort to bring clean water to people around the world through their “Weekend for Water.” All you have to do is tune in to livestreams of Minecraft players – you can make donations, the streamers will be giving away Minecoins, and the money raised will help dig wells to provide clean water around the globe.

So this World Water Day, I encourage you to take action, and encourage your friends, neighbors, employers and government officials to take action as well. It will take all of us to ensure no one is left behind, and that work should begin today.

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Microsoft strengthens global energy portfolio with 74 megawatts of North Carolina solar power from Invenergy’s Wilkinson Solar Energy Center

CHICAGO March 6, 2019 – Microsoft Corp. and Invenergy, a leading U.S.-based, privately held global developer and operator of sustainable energy solutions, today announced a 74-megawatt solar project in North Carolina. The new project will deliver economic investment and jobs for Beaufort County, clean energy to Microsoft, and growth to the U.S. solar power industry.

Invenergy logoThe Wilkinson Solar Energy Center project will be constructed, owned and operated by Invenergy, which has contracted more than 1,600 megawatts supporting corporate renewable customers. Via the 15-year power purchase agreement, Microsoft will become the sole offtaker of the energy generated at the Wilkinson Solar Energy Center. This represents Microsoft’s fourth power purchase agreement in the PJM Interconnection and will bring Microsoft’s total renewable energy portfolio to more than 1.3 gigawatts.

“When we invest in renewable energy, we are investing in the future — enabling sustainable growth of our business, of the clean energy sector and the local communities that benefit economically from Microsoft’s commitment to sustainability,” said Brian Janous, Microsoft’s general manager of Energy and Sustainability. “Our work with companies like Invenergy is an integral step toward our goal of enabling a clean energy future for everyone. We are pleased our partnership will bring new solar resources to the PJM region.”

“Invenergy is proud to work with leading corporate renewables customers like Microsoft to help them meet their operational and sustainability goals,” said Jim Shield, Invenergy’s EVP and chief commercial officer. “This investment in North Carolina reflects the increasingly compelling value of solar power for customers to meet their energy needs, while also creating economic development opportunities for local communities.”

Microsoft logoThe Wilkinson Solar Energy Center is expected to generate $20 million in local economic investment through tax payments, landowner lease payments, and wages and benefits for employees. It is scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2019 and is estimated to create more than 500 jobs during construction.

North Carolina ranks second in installed solar capacity among U.S. states, and with more than 256,620 modules, the Wilkinson Solar Energy Facility will be among the largest solar installations in the state.

About Invenergy
We are innovators building a sustainable world. Invenergy and its affiliated companies develop, own, and operate large-scale sustainable energy generation and storage facilities in the Americas, Europe and Asia. Invenergy has successfully developed more than 22,200 megawatts of projects, including wind, solar, and natural gas power generation as well as advanced energy storage projects.

About Microsoft
Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) is the leading platform and productivity company for the mobile-first, cloud-first world, and its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.


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Tackling the conservation crisis with the right data

Tourism is big business, accounting for 10.4 percent of the world’s GDP and supporting one out of every 10 jobs on the planet. For economically fragile communities it can be a lifeline, spurring business development and creating living-wage jobs. But sometimes this growth comes at a price.

The top twenty countries now represent nearly two-thirds of all international arrivals. This concentrated tourism means some of the world’s most beautiful sites are in danger of being “loved to death,” according to a new report from McKinsey & Company, “Coping With Success: Managing Overcrowding in Tourism Destinations.”

An estimated 32 million people will visit Greece in 2018, and just five small islands—Santorini, Crete, Corfu, Rhodes, and Mykonos—will receive much of the volume, stressing their infrastructure and ecosystems. The Peruvian government has tried to limit the number of visitors to Machu Picchu, because of concerns about irreversible ecologic impacts. Tourism hotspot Venice is suffering because the vast crowds that descend on its 100 small islands every year displace locals. And nearly 80 percent of the reefs in Thailand’s popular Koh Khai islands have been damaged by humans, causing the government to close three islands, states the McKinsey report.

In nearly every tourist attraction location, governments are struggling to manage and mitigate the environmental impacts, which include waste, erosion, defacement of artifacts, habitat loss, and water stress. Popular tourism sites provide a compelling example of why national and local governments need to craft long-range sustainability strategies accompanied by specific actions that start today to protect their valuable ecosystems.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is taking the lead on assessing the economic and ecologic politics of tourism. More importantly for the countries, economies, and ecosystems in question, TNC is using the power of the cloud and AI to provide insights about how to develop a more sustainable path forward.

Using big data to protect fragile tourism destinations

TNC has worked for years to protect and conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Their goal is to enable a world where people and nature thrive. To create that world, people need better and more accurate information to understand what is happening today and why, to prove the economic value of investing in data-led solutions for conservation issues, and to pursue focused actions to preserve nature for future generations.

TNC has historically relied on traditional and academic research to build a business case for sustainability. However, the organization also has lacked a way to combine that research with big data and social media to create a compelling rationale for protecting fragile ecologic systems, such as coral reefs, cities prone to flooding, and more.

Microsoft’s AI for Earth program, which is part of Microsoft’s AI for Good initiative, helps organizations use artificial intelligence (AI) to solve the world’s thorniest environmental challenges. Microsoft became a global partner of TNC with its Upgrade Your World program, launched in conjunction with the Windows 10 release in 2015. Backed by Microsoft’s resources, TNC can now use data in a more powerful way, and even work toward dissolving boundaries between organizations that deal with environmental issues, such as urban planning, economic development, corporate sustainability, and ecology preservation groups.

“If we don’t have proof or numbers on the important facets of nature and why we need to protect it, we sound vague,” explains Dr. Mark Spalding, senior marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy. “My first thought was that with advances in technology, we can show local economies how valuable nature is. If we can show them where nature provides significant economic returns, then we can do a much better job of persuading them to look after nature.”

Artificial intelligence improves conservation decision-making

Through an AI for Earth grant fulfilled by NetHope, TNC leveraged Microsoft Azure cloud services to help link data with AI and machine-learning tools to develop decision models that can be shared among cross-disciplinary organizations. Each group can use the models to prove, plan, and track the impact of sustainability initiatives, providing economic data decision-makers with the information they need to drive policy-making and investing.

Emerging technology is also helping break down information silos that for years have stood in the way of better scientific insights. For example, Esri, the University of California at Santa Cruz, Spatial Development International, and the Natural Capital Project worked with TNC and Microsoft to brainstorm conservation applications based on Azure’s cognitive services API. One groundbreaking result is TNC’s Mapping Ocean Wealth initiative. The nonprofit crafted an AI-powered web app in tandem with Microsoft AI for Earth and Esri, building the software and training the algorithm.

The app can precisely analyze geo-tagged photos that are uploaded to the photo-sharing site Flickr, processing millions of images in hours. Machine learning helps the app distinguish between a scuba diver in a fragile area versus one in a pool, for instance. By matching the frequency and number of coral-related photos to economic tourism data, data scientists can quantify the value of coral reefs, kilometer by kilometer.

Data visualization reveals the true value of natural resources

When TNC leaders shared its AI-powered map of the Florida Keys coral reefs to local officials, the policymakers realized that in high-tourism areas in their waters, every square kilometer of reef accounts for up to more than $1 million in revenue each year. “People are starting to have ‘aha’ moments,” Spalding says. “Seeing that hard data helps localities plan and realize their natural resources truly are precious.”

Those insights, delivered with powerful data visualizations, can help local agencies balance tourism goals with preservation objectives. That type of decision-making is already occurring. In Cancun, Mexico, local hotels are contributing to a voluntary tax fund to repair the area’s “million-dollar reefs” when they are damaged after natural or other disasters. TNC plans to run its app in real time to rapidly identify such changes, which will empower groups to accelerate repair efforts, translating to a healthier, more sustainable environment.

Similarly, TNC has teamed with Minecraft to create an immersive world that enables players to protect and restore coral reefs through play. Players can place five types of coral reefs in Minecraft’s in-game oceans and use the Coral Crafter Skin Pack to create character costumes, learning about the importance of ecologic preservation.

“Thanks to our work with Microsoft, we have the incredible opportunity to leverage technology to link science to actionable planning,” says Zach Ferdaña, program manager at The Nature Conservancy. “We’re using AI, machine learning, and other technology tools to accelerate our impact and increase coastal communities’ resilience. We’re hacking the future.”

Read the case study.

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How working like a beaver is helping to replenish water

On a crisp autumn day just outside the town of Peshashtin in central Washington, I could be seen alongside seven other Microsoft employees hauling bunches of dogwood and alder saplings down a steep embankment in Darby Canyon to the trickling creek below. For a day, we stepped away from our standing desks and back-to-back Skype meetings to roll up our sleeves and work with Trout Unlimited on a fascinating project, constructing beaver dam analogs – BDAs – on Darby Creek.

Let me answer the two obvious questions here. First, what are BDAs? They are lines of pilings driven into the streambed with branches woven between them that mimic the functionality of beaver dams, generating a host of water availability and quality benefits, such as reducing sediments and stream temperature in the summer. Secondly, why are Microsoft employees weaving beaver dams in central Washington? Believe it or not, this project represents the future of our approach to water, and specifically water replenishment.

Microsoft has been taking actions, within our operations and with our partners, to use less water and preserve this vital natural resource. Overall, our approach rests on four cornerstones: understanding water risks, setting water reduction goals, investing in replenishment, and fostering digital transformation in the water space. Increasingly, we’re looking beyond conservation to include replenishment in this water strategy.

By supporting water replenishment, we have an opportunity to balance our consumption of water, while generating tangible water benefits for the ecosystems and communities where we operate. As a changing climate and competing demands for water put greater pressure on this essential resource, it’s important for companies like Microsoft to engage in water replenishment, particularly in water-stressed regions where we have substantial operations.

One such region is central Washington, where we have datacenter operations, and just over the mountains, our global headquarters in Redmond. Given the proximity and import to our business, it just made sense as the location for our initial investments in water replenishment. In addition to the BDA project, Microsoft partnered with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to support projects that will increase flows and habitat conditions for migrating fish, remove fish passage barriers, and test new irrigation techniques that can improve the quality and quantity of fruit, while using less water. These projects are designed to produce tangible benefits that are meaningful for the aquatic environment and for the agricultural sector in the area.

Our work won’t end here. Microsoft is a global company with an operational presence around the world and we want our water stewardship program to span the globe as well. To accomplish this, we’re evaluating what we’ve learned in central Washington and are experimenting with ways to apply it more broadly. We know that as we explore scaling replenishment, we’ll need to keep some key factors in mind:

  • Replenishment investments should be informed by what’s happening on the ground in a region with respect to water – this could vary from lack of availability of water for aquatic species to inadequate access to drinking water for people. The famous axiom “all politics are local” could be applied to water, with “water” replacing “politics.”
  • Working with partners who understand what is happening on the ground is critically important, and we need to collaborate with them and listen to their guidance.
  • Replenishment investments should be directed toward activities that will contribute to alleviating water stress.

We endeavor to make our operational commitments serve a higher value than just improving our operations – from carbon neutrality, renewable energy, AI for Earth, and beyond, we are focused on making changes that can scale globally and deliver benefits well outside of our four walls. As we explore the role Microsoft can play in water, we’ll look to and build off the work, experiences and lessons learned along the way to advance an environmentally sustainable agenda. Follow this blog to learn about our progress.

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