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Call to establish £100m Centre for AI, Energy and Climate as UK risks falling behind

AI can help reduce global emissions by up to 4% by 2030.

AI can help reduce global emissions by up to 4% by 2030.

A group of businesses, tech companies and universities have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for the establishment of a UK-based International Centre for AI, Energy and Climate.

The letter highlights the ability of technology to facilitate net zero in the UK, as well as the opportunity for the country to become a world leader in artificial intelligence (AI).

It states that AI can help reduce global emissions by up to 4% by 2030, at the same time as boosting global GDP by 4.4%.

As such the need for the UK government to align its COVID-related fiscal support packages with its net zero ambitions and accelerating digitisation and adoption of data science is clear, the letter states.

The group behind the letter – which includes the likes of Energy UK, the Solar Trade Association and Energy Systems Catapult – has laid out three core initiatives, including the establishment of an International Centre for AI, Energy and Climate.

This centre would allow the UK to develop and deploy data science applications to help tackle climate change, and to systemically improve the efficiency of energy systems worldwide. Currently, we are risk of falling behind with the application of AI, so the letter urges the government to commit £100 million to an initial funding package for such a centre.

Paul Massara, ex-CEO of nPower RWE and Electron explained: “Over time energy systems will need to fully embrace digital technologies such as data science and AI to be able to manage the increasing number and complexity of assets coming onto the grid, including variable and distributed generation, electric cars, batteries and demand side response assets.

“The government needs to support a locus of expertise, such as the International Centre for AI, Energy & Climate, that can accelerate and advise on this transition, and which can support the creation of hundreds of start-ups and thousands of high-tech jobs.”

Enhanced energy data collection forms the basis of the second initiative, and points to advice already released by the Energy Data Taskforce that calls for better energy system intelligence to reduce prices.

Finally, there should be an emerging tech pavilion at the UN’s climate conference COP26 when it is held in Glasgow in 2021, to “showcase the UK’s leadership on emerging tech for climate change”.

If enacted, AI could play a “potentially significant role” in the transition to a low carbon energy system said Charles Wood, head of new energy services and heat at Energy UK.

"The UK has the potential to become a global leader in AI and data by capitalising on the existing capabilities of the UK technology and energy sector. This will help us meet our net zero target and drive innovative business models in the energy sector.”

The call for the COVID-19 recovery to focus on reaching net zero has been echoed throughout the energy sector recently, with more than 50 charities penning an open letter to the government on the topic this week.

The Aldersgate Group last week highlighted that low carbon projects could help address the imminent economic challenges caused by the pandemic within a new report, while the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group added its weight to the calls for a green recovery.

Other groups that have echoed the call include the Committee on Climate Change, the Confederation of British Industry, the International Renewable Energy Agency and another open letter signed by a group of 200 business leaders.

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