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How innovation can drive us towards net zero

Posted 15 Nov 2021

In the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), and in the wake of the government’s new Net Zero Strategy, we have been reflecting on Digital Catapult’s role in tackling the climate crisis, and achieving industrial net zero.

The landmark Net Zero Strategy builds on the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan, which was set out in 2020. It outlines the ways in which the UK government plans to reach net zero emissions by 2050 by reducing the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels, leveraging private investment towards environmentally friendly initiatives, and helping consumers and businesses transition towards clean energy.

This strategy comes as the UK prepares to host the UN COP26 summit, at which the Prime Minister will call on other countries to implement similar initiatives.

How will digital innovation help?

In line with many other environmental agendas, the new Net Zero Strategy centres around clean energy. Digital technology is foundational to tackling this challenge, providing the basic infrastructure needed to facilitate a move away from fossil fuels.
Increased investment in street charging points for electric cars, for instance, is geared towards reducing the use of petrol/diesel engines. But these hubs also present opportunities for companies working in digital innovation.

Digital Catapult’s Urban Data Collective is helping to increase transparency about the vast amounts of data collected in cities and communities, and how it can be applied to improve public services. The work it’s currently doing could be used to help local authorities, vehicle manufacturers, and energy providers develop environmentally conscious products and services according to valuable data collected about vehicle usage from electric vehicle charging points.

Now aligned with the UK’s national agenda, the increased adoption of emerging technologies offers far more opportunities for collaboration with other innovators within the digital supply chain.

How do our agendas match up?

The Net Zero Strategy has reinforced the need for many of the initiatives that Digital Catapult has already been working towards. Alongside the opportunities for development in the electrical vehicle sector, the strategy sets out new plans to develop hydrogen projects and accelerate industrial carbon capture.

These projects require the formation of new infrastructure programmes, which could be intelligently managed using digital twins. The Digital Catapult team has been developing digital twin software to enable structures, products, and programmes to be managed and maintained effectively. Carbon accounting, too, will require a decentralised digital monitoring system that can be delivered through digital twin technology.

The team is also working in distributed ledger technology (DLT), forming calculator systems using blockchain. These calculators will reveal the carbon cost of a project before it commences, enabling suppliers and service providers to make more sustainable choices. Digital Catapult’s work with Inteli, AiEVO, and the Digital Sandwich projects is proving the value of DLT when it comes to strengthening supply chains.

In fact, Digital Catapult is working with companies across multiple sectors to make positive environmental changes in domestic and industrial settings. This includes partnerships with Baxi Boilers on the Made Smarter Servitisation Demonstrator for the decarbonisation of home fuels, as well as the LoCo4Farm project for monitoring soil health, animal feed, and air quality. Digital Catapult’s work on the DLT4EU project and the IoT4LA programme aims to make changes to society and supply chains on an international scale.

Our thoughts

As an environmentally conscious company, Digital Catapult recognises the value in these new initiatives. However, when it comes to clean energy, there’s always more that can be done. Reaching net zero emissions by 2050 would be great; but wouldn’t it be better if we could get there sooner?

With this in mind, it’s vital to remain critical of new measures.

Achieving the ambition of a sustainable future will require more than government funding however. It needs key industry players to add investment and work together in partnership to find original solutions. The agenda for new developments is promising, but more needs to be done to renovate and update older, less efficient technologies to reduce emissions from existing systems.

The strategy states that the UK is responsible for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, this is because we generally import manufactured products, which exports our waste. For the UK to reach net zero, we need to consider the lifecycle of the products we use and the global impacts these create.

We look forward to reviewing the outcomes of the UN Climate Change Conference to see how other countries plan to tackle these challenges and how international collaboration might optimise the UK’s efforts.

While action is needed across the board, what is certain is that digital innovation will be instrumental in facilitating the changes required to meet our net zero goals. Clearly there are opportunities now to progress sustainability initiatives, and Digital Catapult is already involved in a range of projects to help businesses measure environmental impact, reduce waste, reduce costs, and increase productivity and optimisation.