Can AI Save the Planet?

Peter Sun
A Climactic World
Published in
5 min readApr 3, 2023

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The Unveiling of Our Climate Tech x AI Market Map

Raj Kapoor and Peter Sun, Team Climactic

2023 is the year of AI.

There is a perfect storm of new developments — advanced large language models, snazzy chat interfaces bringing them to life as well as not so sexy advances in analytical AI and synthetic data. GPT-4, Transformer, and other models are evolving at breakneck velocities. These have shown the potential to perform complex tasks, such as language translation, generative content creation and image recognition at a scale and speed never seen before.

But AI was not the only thing that took off.

The urgency to address the climate crisis has never been more apparent. 2022 saw a turning point where governments, businesses, and individuals prioritize sustainability in ALL industries — not just energy — enabling the climate tech economy to thrive. This sector is booming while most other sectors (except AI) are down…way down. Funding is accelerating, entrepreneurs are jumping in, and businesses are finally buying — with tailwinds from the US Government’s IRA and EU regulations.

What, then, can we find at the intersection of these two currents of our time?

Adding AI to the challenges addressed in climate tech is powerful and timely. AI is bringing new levels of efficiency, prediction accuracy, and innovation to the field. Analytical AI can help with predictive modeling, detecting patterns and anomalies in large data sets, and optimizing & increasing resource lifespans. Generative AI can help synthesize massive amounts of data to give thorough answers and insight in minutes. And it can also help in customer facing functions like sales and customer support. And imagine if you apply generative AI to help you re-write your renewable energy proposal to take advantage of ALL the dizzying array of incentives and penalties in a voice that is proven to close sales through the use of data. The days of spending enormous energy and time creating massive documents for grants and sales proposals could be coming to an end.

At Climactic, we baselined general AI capabilities such as workflow, monitoring, robotics, and overlaid the major climate tech verticals to see which startups are addressing each intersection.

After surveying 150+ founders, investors and AI experts, here’s the 91 companies that constitute the Climactic Climate Tech x AI market map (version 23.04.03):

Climactic’s world of climate tech x AI companies, version 23.04.03

Between the colors and lines, we highlight three key observations:

  1. Not all sectors are equal when it comes to the number of AI startups: Energy, Food/Ag, and environmental services & resilience (for example: carbon accounting, remote monitoring) have seen more companies applying AI to climate tech use cases than other hot sectors in climate tech. This is largely correlated with the funding injected into these climate tech sub-sectors — but not perfectly in line. Transport and the built environment both have taken the lion’s share of climate tech investment in recent years but have yet to see as much startup activity in the AI field (excluding self driving vehicle startups). Sectors such as fintech that have seen plentiful horizontal AI investments, on the other hand, seem more muted. This could just be timing; we expect this landscape to change rapidly. Stay tuned.
  2. There is plenty of AI capabilities in climate tech sectors: Across sectors, we spotted the most climate tech x AI companies in Monitoring & Prevention and Modeling & Decision Making, which are applications of maturing AI capabilities such as computer vision, machine learning, and expert systems. What are just as fascinating, though, are capability areas where AI has not yet popped up as much. There are lots of blanks in this market map. Robotics in mining, Design & Development in the built environment, workflow and automation across all climate sectors beyond energy — to name a few. Design & development, in particular, is a promising area where generative AI can drastically shorten development cycles and discover designs that maximize output per unit of resources and energy consumed.
  3. AI of all types can be applied to Climate Tech: Analytical AI is where machines analyze a set of data and find patterns to solve a multitude of use cases. This is the bread and butter AI we’ve known for quite some time, and it’s being used across this map from climate.ai in modeling climate impact on agriculture with a plethora of weather data to DeepSea that ingests maritime data to optimize routes. Generative AI is greenfield and ready to germinate; it is well on the way to becoming not just faster and cheaper, but better in some cases than what humans create by hand — and more convincing when we use it for sales scripts or proposal writing. We are curious where “general” generative AI stops and “vertical-specific” generative AI begins — especially when many verticals that climate tech tackles (say energy and heavy industries) are known for their particularities, where the human eye and judgement may go hand in hand with AI in the long run.

While the application of AI in climate tech is promising, we see several challenges to overcome. Front and center is data availability and quality. AI models require large and high-quality datasets to be trained effectively, but data can be scarce or incomplete in certain climate-related areas, such as extreme weather events, or scope 3 supply chain data. Another challenge is how quickly talent with experience in generative AI moves to climate. There is so much heat in the generative AI chat bot space that it may be a while before they migrate to Climate Tech.

We are here to help expedite this migration.

We would love to hear from you about your thoughts on AI meets Climate Tech. This map isn’t exhaustive — let us know if you have startups that should belong here or new capabilities to consider. We are eager to see AI companies light up (and enlighten) each cell in this market map. We look forward to hearing from founders, investors, and anyone excited by this delicious combination : )

About Climactic

Climactic is an early-stage VC focused on enterprise services and mobility startups for corporations to reach sustainability goals by improving efficiency, profitability and resiliency. We lead / co-lead pre-seed through series A rounds with hands-on additionalities to founders from Josh Felser (ex-Freestyle VC) and Raj Kapoor (ex-CSO at Lyft). Learn more about us at www.climactic.vc.

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