By David Stanway
BEIJING (Reuters) - IBM Corp has signed an agreement with the city of Beijing to use advanced weather forecasting and cloud computing technologies to help tackle the Chinese capital's persistent smog.
After a series of pollution scares and scandals, China's central government has promised to reverse some of the damage done to the nation's sky, rivers and soil by more than three decades of growth. But China has first had to improve data collection, monitoring and forecasting capabilities before it can work on cutting smog and pollution.
Beijing city already uses an alerting system based on data from 35 monitoring stations, allowing it to shut schools and factories and cut traffic three days in advance, but residents still complain that not enough is being done.
"Predicting is helpful because it helps prevent exposure, but it is not enough if it is only about knowing which days to put on masks or stay indoors," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs, a non-government group that works to improve emissions data transparency.
Under the agreement with IBM, Beijing's city government will be one of the partners in the company's China-focused 10-year "Green Horizon" initiative, which aims to draw on IBM's forecasting expertise and the collection of real-time emissions data to predict smog build-ups.
"It is about how we can help cities improve management based on 'Big Data', and better predict (pollution) with accuracy so the government can take proactive action," said Xiaowei Shen, China director of IBM Research, speaking at IBM's lab in Beijing's northwest high-tech district of Zhongguancun.
With China committed to reducing the share of coal in its energy mix, IBM's cloud-based analytic systems could also be tailored to make better use of renewable energy, Shen said.
At the Zhangbei wind and solar power demonstration project run by the State Grid Corp in northern Hebei province, for instance, a supply and demand management system from IBM has helped reduce wasted power to just 20 percent from 30 percent.
Better data about the make-up of the Beijing's pollution could also lead to more effective action, said Wang Tao, resident scholar at the energy and climate change program at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy.
"They can find out if stopping cars running is more effective, or stopping pollution from heavy industries," Wang said.
IBM representatives said the Green Horizon initiative could generate new commercial opportunities in pollution control and renewable energy in China.
IBM's sales in China have slumped since last year, hurt by a backlash against U.S.-based multinationals in the wake of revelations that the United States has been spying on foreign subjects and governments.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Tom Hogue)