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Greener states demand digital innovation

If we’re to win the fight against climate change, the UK’s digital engineering industry will be key. Zoe Cunningham, Director at Softwire, explains why.

With more and more governments and councils declaring climate emergencies, the need to find practical ways of reducing humanity’s impact on the planet is coming into sharp focus. Tomorrow’s smarter states will need to be significantly greener than today’s.

Making this a reality requires innovation at so many levels, not least in software and digital engineering. Because without it, many planned or existing green initiatives simply wouldn’t be possible.

To demonstrate the impact that sophisticated software is already having in the fight against climate change, we’ve picked out some very different examples. These show just how broad the influence of digital systems can be when it comes to realising the vision of a smarter, greener state.

Informing government policy

Governments and councils in the smarter state will use increasing amounts of data to inform their environmental decision-making. Sophisticated data management systems, such as those being modernised by the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy are the foundation.

These will be complemented by intuitive business intelligence and reporting capabilities, data science and pioneering artificial intelligence. Further development in these areas will help authorities achieve whole new levels of insight and foresight about climate change and what can be done to slow it.

Enabling renewable energy use

Renewable generation will be a critical part of this story. Here, much of the focus is on solar panels, wind turbines and other visible parts of the ecosystem. But making the most of this green generation relies on sophisticated software. And with more renewable generation capacity being added to the mix all the time, smarter states are going to need ever-more powerful software to harness it.

For example, complex calculations must take place to ensure those generating electricity receive the right payments. On a national level, tools such as Ofgem’s Central FIT Register enable this, while the ongoing innovation in local energy markets and the systems required to support them is also essential.

In addition, smarter states require advanced software to overcome the challenge renewables pose around maintaining a constant and reliable electricity supply.

With fossil fuels, you can meet peaks in energy demand by increasing the supply going into the grid. But this doesn’t work with renewables. You can’t simply ask the wind to blow harder when a world cup game gets to half time and everyone puts the kettle on.

Part of the answer is storage, enabling energy to be collected when the sun shines and wind blows, then used at a later time. Storage can take various forms, from water and storage heaters or batteries in individual homes, to larger-scale batteries attached to the grid.

All these storage techniques require control software, typically processing data from multiple sources with advanced algorithms to manage different parts of the ecosystem. This will be critical in enabling us to make maximum use of renewable energy and drive down fossil fuel reliance.

Empowering individuals and businesses

Lastly, tech can help individuals reduce their own climate footprints. The UK’s (admittedly much-criticised) Smart Metering Implementation Programme is a high-profile example, aiming to show us where we’re using a lot of energy, so we take steps to reduce it.

Elsewhere, the digitally led Simple Energy Advice service asks homeowners and tenants a series of questions about their homes, then provides carefully tailored advice on how to make them greener.

UK digital sector at the heart of the green revolution

There are countless other examples we could give. But what this selection shows is the range of very different green initiatives that rely on smart software.

It’s why the UK’s digital engineering sector is going to play an absolutely essential role in our collective efforts to ensure our children and grandchildren can live in a cleaner, greener world.

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