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Live Labs blog: Decarbonisation - the fourth White Paper

8 October 2021

On the publication of the programme’s fourth white paper, Decarbonisation, Live Labs Programme Director, Giles Perkins, describes the varied approaches to decarbonisation taken by different Labs.

Reducing our human-generated COemissions through rethinking how we produce and consume energy is vital in avoiding climate catastrophe and building a green future. The Live Labs programme supports local government’s drive to develop sustainable, clean, well-connected communities through innovation, with decarbonisation as a motivating factor. ‘Decarbonisation’ explores the variety of ways in which our eight Live Labs take an innovative approach with a focus on local needs.

Developed through a series of one-to-one discussions with each of the local authority, the White Paper shows how each of our eight Live Labs have approached the challenge of decarbonisation differently. These solutions fall into one of five categories:

  • Sustainable materials – some Live Labs have been testing the use of alternative materials, such as plastic additives in roads in Cumbria and fibre-reinforced polymers in lamppost columns in Buckinghamshire. Both trials are assessing these materials’ potential to reduce our industry’s carbon footprint, extend the lifecycle of our assets, and increase recyclability.

  • Environmental monitoring – the Suffolk, Thames Valley, and Buckinghamshire Live Labs have each built their own portfolio of environmental data through the use of different sensors, to identify immediate environmental conditions and long-term trends. This can then be used to optimise transport planning and inform environmental policymakers.

  • Energy – the use of renewable energy sources, contributing to the phasing out of unsustainable fossil fuels. The innovations on display include road-integrated geothermal heating and solar panels at Central Bedfordshire’s Thorn Turn depot, wind turbines and solar panels installed on lampposts across Buckinghamshire’s street lighting network, and a UK-first ‘kinetic walkway’ that generate energy from footsteps at Leighton Buzzard train station.

  • Digitalisation and Communication – data driven solutions which draw upon a variety of datasets, platforms, and communicative tools. Sensor data and open data approaches that rely on collaboration with external data sources together contribute to better asset management, such as that demonstrated by the Kent Live Lab’s Highways Asset Management Technology Incubator initiative. Furthermore, the use of video analytics by the West Midlands Network Resilience Live Lab seeks to understand travel behaviour and consequently increase the capacity, safety, and efficiency of the local road network. Overall, digitally-led approaches can result in an incremental decarbonising effect across every aspect of our industry’s operations.

  • Mobility – encouraging a shift to ‘active travel’ by introducing networks of alternative transport options, such as e-bikes and e-scooters, have been trialled by the Buckinghamshire and Staffordshire Live Labs. This also includes supporting the growth of larger electric vehicles through easy access to vehicle chargers. Creating sustainable ‘transport hubs’ presents an opportunity to reduce congestion and emissions, improve air quality, restrict vehicle maintenance costs, and promote active travel between urban centres and isolated rural communities where private vehicles still dominate the roads.

Although each Live Lab project has been planned and implemented with local needs in mind, the aim of every trial is to test out innovations and technologies that can be transferable to other local authorities up and down the country. The learnings, outcomes and conclusions from each can help to set and achieve environmental objectives at national and local levels. And with the recent publication of the Decarbonisation of Transport Strategy, this White Paper is an important contribution.

Live Labs, fourth White Paper, Decarbonisation is available here.