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Is AI the UK’s route to decarbonisation?

Government will invest in multiple AI projects designed to decarbonise and increase the generation of renewable energy in the UK
07 September 2023 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

ICL expert believes the investment is “well motivated and has significant potential for impact” but warns that decarbonisation of AI itself must also be investigated

The UK government has made £4 million of funding available for artificial intelligence (AI) initiatives designed to transform the way industries cut their carbon emissions and help the country reach its net zero target by 2050.

Twelve green AI initiatives will receive a share of £1 million to decarbonise and boost the generation of renewable energy. Secqai Ltd. will receive £100,000 to develop ultra-low-power AI technology that mimics the human brain to reduce computer power consumption when performing AI tasks, helping to cut its carbon footprint. Ltd. will benefit from £132,147 to create agriculture robotics that will provide an automated soil and crop health monitoring system to support decarbonisation in crop management and dairy farms.

Funding is also awarded to a solar energy project run by the University of Nottingham in which AI will improve the forecasting of solar energy production, and to Open Climate Fix Ltd, which will develop AI that uses satellite and weather data to support the connection of solar electricity to the energy grid.

Viscount Camrose, Minister for AI and Intellectual Property said AI is delivering transformative change in the UK, with the projects “tapping into the UK’s world-class research base and home-grown expertise” to tackle the global challenge of climate change.

Dr Dario Paccagnan, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computing at Imperial College London (ICL) said, “AI, or more precisely algorithmic advances, have a key role to play in decarbonisation, with potential advances that span very many fields including manufacturing and chemical engineering (e.g. making processes more efficient) transportation of goods (e.g. computing greener routes to travel from A to B), and autonomous mobility (e.g. moving away from car ownership). Therefore, at its face value, the investment is well motivated and has significant potential for impact.”

Additionally, as part of the government’s £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, a further £2.25 million will support further AI innovations to cut emissions specifically in energy sectors.

“We are unquestionably world-leading when it comes to advanced AI and our track record for decarbonisation…we must now push the boundaries in how this technology can enhance our rapidly growing clean energy sector.”

Lord Callanan, Minister for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance said: “We are unquestionably world-leading when it comes to advanced AI and our track record for decarbonisation. This unique position means we must now push the boundaries in how this technology can enhance our rapidly growing clean energy sector.”

The government’s Digital Catapult agency, part of Innovate UK, has also received up to £500,000 to launch the UK’s first Centre for Excellence in AI innovation for decarbonisation (ADViCE), a virtual hub uniting businesses, academics and experts to advance research into AI solutions to help industries cut emissions. Dr Jeremy Silver, CEO said the programme will “drive forward AI’s integral role in solving critical decarbonisation challenges.”

However, there is more to be done, Paccagnan believes, including decarbonising of AI itself: “As AI becomes more widespread, there will also be increased emissions in running these algorithms, for example Large Language Models requires months of compute-time.  More efficient algorithms and data pruning techniques should be further investigated to tackle this issue.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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