Setting out targets for net zero computing by 2040

Data experts are analysing UKRI’s digital estate to set out targets for net zero computing within the next two decades.

Scientists will recommend a plan to ensure the UK’s research and innovation sector reaches carbon neutrality, with the proposal ensuring digital computing tools from supercomputers to phones will reach net zero by 2040.

The novel £1.9m project will strengthen UKRI’s journey towards sustainability and offer a roadmap to deliver net zero computing and an entire carbon neutral digital research infrastructure within the next twenty years.

The project has been funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

Towards net zero computing

Across the nine organisations that comprise UKRI, there is a significant range of computing and mobile technology, or digital research infrastructure.

In order to facilitate UKRI’s net zero goal, data scientists from Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA) are utilising a range of techniques to map out the organisation’s digital infrastructure.

Then, by employing these techniques, UKRI will establish the best course of action to cut carbon emissions from data generation, analysis, storage, and dissemination.

The project will cover all the UKRI-owned and majority-funded infrastructure, everything from the national supercomputing centres to the thousands of smartphones used by staff.

Paving the way to carbon neutrality

CEDA will lead a preliminary, 18-month UKRI-wide study to review the digital carbon landscape, run a set of demonstrators and develop a roadmap. This will ensure that the organisation’s data infrastructure can attain net zero.

Using a systems-based methodology, CEDA will work to create adaptation strategies for the way data is conserved, analysed, and managed.

The project team will work collaboratively across the whole of UKRI’s digital research infrastructures to ensure the whole organisation is represented.

Dr Martin Juckes, Head of Atmospheric Science and Research and Deputy Head of CEDA, who is leading the project, explained: “We will set a benchmark for a realistic, rigorously evidenced, ambitiously scheduled, roadmap for the full decarbonisation of all elements of significant national infrastructure.

“The project will look at both the energy consumed by the computers in use and the impact of the supply chain.”

Brad Tipp of Microsoft, who joins the project on the Scientific Advisory Board, added: “Microsoft are delighted to be part of this new UK initiative to eliminate the carbon footprint of computational research, part of a growing global movement to meet and go beyond the Paris targets.”

About UKRI

Launched in April 2018, UKRI is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The organisation brings together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

UKRI’s vision is for an outstanding research and innovation system in the UK that gives everyone the opportunity to contribute and to benefit, enriching lives locally, nationally and internationally.


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