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Digital Technologies and the Planet: Towards Net Zero

Conference

Overview

Credit: NicoElNino

Human activity has increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration by more than 40% since pre-industrial times. This, and increases in other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, has led to a global average temperature rise of 1°C above pre-industrial levels. If emissions continue to increase at their present rate, temperatures could rise by more than 4°C by 2100. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C may still be feasible. To achieve a 1.5°C target, the net emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases, principally CO2, would have to reach ‘net zero’ level by around 2050. In the next decade urgent, ambitious and concerted action is required across all countries and sectors to deliver rapid emissions reductions. Rapid and unprecedented changes in energy, land use, urban development, transport, infrastructure and industrial systems are needed, with implications for how individuals live and work.

Digital technologies could support this transformation. These technologies have already reshaped many daily activities – from online retail to on-demand transport services – with individuals using data-enabled systems to bring physical activities into the digital realm, reducing carbon emissions in the process. As technologies develop and systems for data use evolve, there will be further opportunities to find new ways of carrying out everyday tasks, with digital technologies bolstering a low-carbon revolution.

Attending this event 

This online conference has been developed to help generate connections between industry, academia and government. We would welcome attendees involved in high-tech and digital industries, green technology, green recovery and the Just Transition, associated policy and finance bodies, as well as those with an interest in the social sciences. If you meet these criteria, or are otherwise interested, please do register for this event.

Please direct any questions to the Industry team.

About the conference series

This scientific meeting is part of the Royal Society’s Transforming our Future conference series. The Transforming our Future meetings are unique, high-level events that address the scientific and technical challenges of the next decade. Each conference features cutting edge science from industry and academia and brings together leading experts from the scientific community, including regulatory, charity and funding bodies.

Join the Scientists mailing list to receive updates about the Royal Society's activities and events. 

Event organisers

Select an organiser for more information

Schedule of talks

10 December

12:45-13:00

Registration

13:00-13:05

Welcoming remarks

1 talk Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dame Sue Ion FREng FRS, Chair of the Royal Society Science, Industry and Translation Committee

Dame Sue Ion FREng FRS, Chair of the Royal Society Science, Industry and Translation Committee

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13:05-14:05

Opening keynotes: Digital technologies and the planet - towards net zero

2 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Dame Sue Ion FREng FRS, Chair of the Royal Society Science, Industry and Translation Committee

13:05-13:30 Title TBC

Dr Emily Shuckburgh, British Antarctic Survey, UK

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13:35-14:05 Title TBC

Professor Jim Skea CBE OBE, Imperial College London and Co-chair IPCC Working Group III, UK

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14:05-14:30

Coffee break

14:30-16:10

Data and technology for climate change mitigation

4 talks Show detail Hide detail

Chairs

Professor Andrew Hopper CBE FREng FRS, University of Cambridge

14:30-14:50 Monitoring, simulation and prediction of climate change and progress to Net Zero

Nick Rayner, Head of Climate Monitoring, UK Met Office
Nic Bellingham, Supercomputing Technology Lead, UK Met Office

Abstract

For over 30 years the Met Office has been monitoring, simulating and predicting our climate system. Over time, the needs for information about climate variability and change have diversified and become more local in order to inform practical decision making. At the same time, the explosion of data from satellites and other observation sources, together with increases in model resolution and complexity, have challenged our traditional approaches. Consequently, we are developing different techniques for handling the data and running models at increasing resolution. Previously, we could rely on computer chips becoming ever more powerful; we now have to find more varied ways of overcoming that challenge, eg by recoding our models and incorporating machine learning. To do this in a more sustainable way, we also require improvements in the efficiency of the underlying technology. We will discuss these challenges in the context of the UK's ambition to achieve Net Zero.

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14:55-15:15 What role for Digital Twins in Net Zero?

Professor Paul Monks, Chief Scientific Officer, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Abstract

The talk will explore how digital twins could contribute to the delivery of Net Zero. Digital twins are becoming prevalent in the advanced manufacturing sector and are becoming by design more adaptive, embracing the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and analytics. Application of such twins is expanding into the built environment and smart cities. There is a recognised climate change mitigation challenge that sits in the built environment, with 25% of UK greenhouse gas emissions, 40% of UK energy demand, and nearly an estimated £100 billion investment in buildings needed in the next decade to decarbonise by 2050. What role can digital twins play to deliver dynamic 3-D models that reflect real-life and time performance while delivering energy resilience, cost savings, resource efficiency and decarbonisation of buildings, campuses, communities, and cities?

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15:20-15:40 Zero and Everyone: Insights from lowRISC's Business Model for Logical Infrastructure

Dr Gavin Ferris, Co-Founder and CEO, lowRISC CIC

Abstract

Advanced digital solutions can help achieve net zero, but creating them requires high levels of cooperation and innovation across multiple domains, sectors and jurisdictions.

In this presentation, we’ll argue that for this to occur efficiently – and in many cases, at all – urgent attention must be given to building out logical infrastructure: open, permissively licensed, rigorously supported repositories of flexible, transparent and high-quality foundational IP.

We’ll then explain how lowRISC’s business model provides a concrete, proven, and self-sustaining vector to deliver this outcome (bridging the gap between for-profit entities, universities, and the broader development community), and discuss some insights from our experience creating OpenTitan – the world’s first open source root-of-trust chip design – in partnership with Google, Western Digital, Seagate and other industry and academic contributors.

Finally, we’ll briefly explore the potential step-change impact on net zero digitalisation that targeted government intervention, leveraging this approach, could have.

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15:45-16:05 AI for Industrial Energy Efficiency

Sims Witherspoon, Programme Manager, DeepMind

Abstract

Optimised energy efficiency will remain key to emissions reduction until we have a zero-carbon energy mix on the grid. This presentation will explore the autonomous system DeepMind created to control for energy efficiency at industrial complexes, such as Google data centres, and why these systems are important for our journey towards Net Zero.

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16:10-16:30

Coffee break

16:30-17:30

Panel discussion: A good deal for nature - incentives for the data-enabled net zero economy and society

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Chairs

Alex van Someren, Managing Partner, Amadeus Capital Partners

Dr Rhian-Mari Thomas OBE, Chief Executive, The Green Finance Institute
Dimitri Zenghelis, Special Advisor, Bennett Institute Cambridge University and Senior Visiting Fellow Grantham Research Institute LSE
Alexandra Bolton, CEO, Centre for Digital Built Britain, University of Cambridge
Peter Bingham, Chief Engineer, Ofgem

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17:30-17:35

Closing remarks

11 December

13:00-14:45

A good deal for nature: output and vision for future cities

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Chairs

Professor Dame Julia Slingo DBE FRS, Former Chief Scientist at the Met Office, UK

13:05-13:25 Getting to Net Zero: is it time to get smart?

Dr Matthew Lipson, Business Leader: Consumer Insight, Energy Systems Catapult

Abstract

Government has set a national Net Zero target, but where are the public? Do they understand what it means and are they enthusiastic? Take heat for example. Many of the technologies we need – heat pumps, district heating, thermal insulation – have been around since the 1970s. Yet uptake remains very low. Could the emergence of smart home technologies, like advanced heating controls, help change that? What about Heat-as-a-Service, where households buy warmth instead of fuel and a heating system? Could this new business model accelerate uptake of low carbon heat? And make sure everyone can afford to get comfortable in a Net Zero world? Matt will discuss what the Catapult’s experience on these topics from working with government and pioneering businesses on these problems. 

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13:30-13:50 Funding the energy and transport infrastructure to achieve Net Zero

Simon Daniel, Founder and CEO, Moixa

Abstract

Net Zero pensions provide a framework to fund “build back better” and deliver recovery without increasing the long term tax or debt burden. This talk and white paper, argues how over £1 Trillion in unfunded pension liabilities to pay energy and mobility costs in retirement, can be redirected to fund the transition to low carbon infrastructure. New technologies and sharing economy models, can enable “As a Service” energy, mobility, heat as a new pension right for low carbon universal basic services. Future cities can therefore fund investment in renewable generation, battery storage, low carbon transportation, smart grids and building energy efficiency, secured against existing private, public and state pension obligations. Simon will also cover technology examples of how large fleets of connected batteries and electric vehicles can be managed collectively to help cities achieve net zero energy transition. 

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13:55-14:15 Decarbonising the built stock: A digital twin of London and smart meters

Professor Tadj Oreszczyn, Professor of Energy and Environment, UCL

Abstract

In the next three decades every home and workplace will have to be made ready to receive decarbonised energy. This transformation will impact people’s lives and cost billions of pounds. New and existing data combined with smart analytics can facilitate the smoothest transition. Two case studies will be presented. The use of administrative and other data to build a detailed digital twin of every building in London to help local authorities and homeowners plan for the transition to net zero. The use of smart meter and other IoT data to assess a buildings efficiency and so help reduce the gap in performance of energy efficient technologies. 

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14:20-14:40 Building Back Better: BT's support for a green recovery

Andy Wales, Chief Digital Impact and Sustainability Officer, BT Group

Abstract

BT has led the way on climate action for over 28 years and has pledged to become a net zero carbon emissions business by 2045. In June, the company pledged its support for a green recovery – announcing two new initiatives:

The UK Electric Fleets Coalition – BT has teamed up with The Climate Group and 28 other organisations, calling on the UK Government to accelerate the transition to low emission vehicles by 2030 and introduce supportive policy measures which help to unlock infrastructure investment.

The Green Tech Innovation Platform - Working with Plug and Play, the world’s leading innovation platform, BT aims to uncover the latest green technologies from UK-based tech scale-ups that could support BT and its public sector customers.

As part of the transition to a low carbon business model, BT has reduced the carbon emissions intensity of its operations by 42% since 2016/17 and is now purchasing 100% renewable electricity worldwide. 

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14:45-15:10

Coffee break

15:10-16:10

Panel discussion: Positioning of the UK and challenges for industry - research, implementation and post-COVID recovery

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Chairs

Professor Andrew Hopper CBE FREng FRS, University of Cambridge

Dr Robin North, CEO and Co-Founder, Immense Simulations
Dr Ruchi Choudhary, Reader of Architectural Engineering, University of Cambridge
Dr Matthew Lipson, Business Leader: Consumer Insight, Energy Systems Catapult

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16:10-16:30

Coffee break

16:30-17:30

Closing keynote

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Chairs

Professor Andrew Hopper CBE FREng FRS, University of Cambridge

The role of smart technologies in changing behaviours and cutting emissions

Juliet Davenport OBE, CEO and Founder, Good Energy

Abstract

It is clear that consumers will need to play a central role in the shift to a zero-carbon economy. The Committee on Climate Change has estimated that over 60% of the measures to reach net-zero emissions will involve behavioural or societal changes. Smart technologies have significant potential to support on this journey. In this talk, Juliet Davenport will discuss Good Energy’s experience and vision for smart technologies to transform people’s energy usage. Her talk will draw on the latest data into consumer behaviour and insights from her roles on some of the country’s leading research institutes.

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17:00-17:15 Closing remarks

Professor Andrew Hopper CBE FREng FRS, University of Cambridge

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