Local Authority carbon-neutral strategies flawed

Almost nine in ten councils have declared a climate emergency – but faced with multiple, often contradictory, pressures and targets, how many have any confidence in the next steps to take? 

Time is not on the side of any Local Authority. Rather than embarking upon an expensive, carbon draining, speculative smart technology procurement that may never deliver, switched-on authorities should consider pragmatic, tactical, and low carbon alternatives that leverage Edge computing to deliver immediate insight, control, and results, explains Peter Ruffley, CEO, Zizo.

Speculative macro approach

There are several financial incentives – including the Sustainable Warmth competition and the Local Authority Delivery (LAD) scheme, as well as Local Energy Hubs - but with a complex building portfolio, extending from offices to housing, what is the best approach to improve energy efficiency, move to low-carbon heat, and embrace smart technologies across all these buildings?

With the explosion in IoT technology and the promise of ubiquitous 5G networks, much of the thinking is focused on smart cities and smart buildings, technology that can automatically turn off lights, optimise traffic flow and minimise the carbon footprint.

The problem for many Local Authorities is that the approach being encouraged during this ‘assessment and planning' phase is too speculative, too slow and, by default, has a technology dependency that has a high financial and carbon cost.

Adding carbon to (maybe) reduce carbon

According to recent research about the carbon impact of our mobile phone photo habits, for every photo posted online, we take five more and save them on our Google Photos or Apple iCloud accounts, taking up storage space on server farms that, in turn, contribute to the spiralling carbon emissions. According to the study carried out by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), the glut of digital photos taken by UK citizens alone accounts for over 355,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.

Before any Local Authority embarks upon a smart building or city initiative, it is essential to understand the immediate carbon impact associated with these huge data resources – especially when so much of the data is collected speculatively. 

Fast, informative, and low carbon

Using Edge computing in tandem with IoT minimises data storage and removes the need for expensive data centre infrastructure. Small, low-cost Edge devices can be set up immediately, combined with a variety of IoT sensors, for light and heat, for example, to rapidly capture the current state of play.

Analysing this data in context provides a Local Authority with real, usable insights to support carbon-neutral plans. Smart technologies can be rapidly trialled, with Edge computing ensuring there is no delay in either performing the required analytics or taking the necessary actions, to optimise the energy efficiency of the building.

This approach puts Local Authorities back in control. It highlights priority areas for intervention; but also encourages a far more pragmatic, immediate response. If the problem is office workers failing to turn off lights, rather than investing in an expensive, smart AI solution to manage the lights, Edge computing using gamification to encourage behavioural change will reduce energy usage at a much lower cost with a correspondingly low carbon overhead.

Practical and pragmatic

Local Authorities need a way to quickly identify the biggest contributors to their carbon footprint; and the ability to determine how best to mitigate the problem. Edge computing and IoT offers a tactical approach that not only provides rapid insight but also facilitates the innovation and experimentation that will underpin any successful carbon neutral strategy. 

There are so many compelling green technologies coming to the market today; some will work, some won’t. Each has a cost associated; some can be implemented quickly; others will require significant changes. All will have to be tried in a real-world environment to determine their efficacy – as well as their wider citizen impacts. Pragmatism is key. There is no room for speculation – and no justification for massive carbon consuming cloud-based data storage. Local Authorities empowered with a fast, low cost, low carbon approach to evaluating options will make swift progress – while the rest continue to store up even more carbon problems for the future.

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