Clean tech: a new emerging digital tech sector

Quietly, earlier this year, in its assessment of the UK tech sector, Tech Nation highlighted the growth of a new emerging tech sector: clean tech.

It may not get the same profile as healthtech or edtech but it is a market which is set to grow in the years and decades to come. There have been some recent significant announcements which illustrate how technologies are being applied to meet our greatest challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss and the destruction of ecosystems.

Early this year, the Met Office, together with HPE, Fujitsu and the south-west’s leading universities, announced the development of Isambad 2, the world’s most powerful supercomputer set to push the frontiers of scientific research by supporting the development of powerful new algorithms, pacing the way for sophisticated climate modelling.

Also this year, Microsoft announced its plan to address the decline the biodiversity and ecosystems, which aims to put data and digital technology to work, though an ambitious programme to aggregate environmental data from around the world and put it to work in a new “planetary computer.” It plans to combine this with its AI for Earth programme to use the output to enhance environmental decision-making.

Digital tools are providing ecologists with a new range of tools too. To better protect wildlife, seven organizations, led by Conservation International, and Google have mapped more than 4.5 million animals in the wild using photos taken from motion-activated cameras known as camera traps. The photos are all part of Wildlife Insights, an AI-enabled, Google Cloud-based platform that streamlines conservation monitoring by speeding up camera trap photo analysis. With photos and aggregated data available for the world to see, people can change the way protected areas are managed, empower local communities in conservation, and bring the best data closer to conservationists and decision makers.

The pivoting of systems for net zero are also embedding digital technologies at their heart: In the UK, SmarterUK’s Smart Energy and Utilities Group and Smart Mobility Groups are at the vanguard of this movement, working closely with regulators as it navigates the energy transition. Trials and pilots are beginning to show what was only previously theoretical: vehicle-to-Grid and smart charging technologies are poised to help make electric vehicles more affordable for consumers, and the UK’s first trials are underway using AI to help local grids adapt to an energy systems which in future will be more local, more variable, more dynamic.

There remains so much yet untapped opportunity and yet we have so little time to act. With just 30 years to meet the moonshot goal of net zero, SmarterUK’s new Digital Twins Group is working to de-risk and accelerate the scaled deployment of clean technologies through digital twins. We are also backing calls for a new UK-based International Centre for AI, Climate and Environment to help unleash the myriad of opportunities that AI can deliver in our ability to cut carbon and manage energy.

But while digital technology can have a powerful role in our efforts to combat environmental degradation and climate change, we must also be mindful of our impacts on climate, and the environment.

Within our sector, some are already leading the charge in targeting their own environmental impacts. A growing army of members are adopting science-based targets or net zero or net negative emissions targets and is increasingly reaching into supply chains to support and incentivise their suppliers to take action too. Our sector is the also the most prolific in bringing new renewables capacity onto the grid.

But challenges remain: the tech sector is responsible for 700 million tonnes of CO2e a year – 1.4% of global carbon emissions and 4% of global electricity use. We need to keep a steady eye on our energy use and do everything possible to keep that in check whilst we work to digitalise our economy. Global volumes of electronic waste continue to rise and are predicted to triple by 2050. And, while we are making good progress on human rights, stakeholders want us to be more transparent about environmental impacts in the supply chain and actively manage them.

Work with us at techUK to help pivot the economy to low carbon and to address the sector’s environmental challenges. For more information on how you can get involved, please contact me.

  • Susanne Baker

    Susanne Baker

    Associate Director | Climate, Environment and Sustainability
    T 020 7331 2028

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