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Live Labs Blog: the final view from Thames Valley Berkshire Live Labs

Reading Borough Council’s James Crosbie provides a final blog.

Just over three years ago, Reading Borough Council, working with the other five Berkshire authorities, commercial partners and the University of Reading, embarked on our ambitious Live Labs programme.

The programme was centred around big data insights, bringing together air quality, potholes, energy and health with transport to develop and demonstrate technologies and data insights to improve services and our environment.

We have been able to take important steps forward in carbon reduction in transport. Smart energy management has been implemented by Smarter Grid Solutions in council properties in Reading and West Berkshire. We need to be intelligently timing the charging of our council electric vehicles (EVs) based on the carbon intensity of the grid, other energy demands from buildings, and local generation such as solar.

A key lesson learnt has been the lack of readiness of energy systems, data ownership and contract levers to enable integration of legacy equipment and data. We couldn’t connect to the vehicle charges at Reading depot, although other systems including solar generation were integrated. This project has given the councils invaluable learning to move forward and implement energy management. As an extension to this project, our partner, Measurable, installed smart sockets into Reading’s depot delivering a substantial 30% reduction in small power usage for plugged in devices.

Understanding the growth in EV take up across Berkshire and within each of the authority areas is essential to meeting future demand for EV charging. O2, with sub consultants and Hubject, provided a comprehensive study which found that the authority’s charging infrastructure needed to meet an average yearly increase in EV milage of up to 50% and an increase in public chargers from 5,000 to 20,000 by 2024. A challenge that we are working on delivering.

The final part of reducing carbon was the implementation of Innovation Valley Rewards by O2, a travel behavioural change app that rewards people for low carbon travel whilst also giving them air quality information. Although it is early days, this part of the project is ongoing, and an exciting area as behavioural change is vital in meeting our carbon goals.

An interesting issue that brought a number of the parties together, was air quality. 27 low-cost sensors were deployed by Yunex (supplied by Earthsense). The data was used to inform local authority health and air quality officers, develop and implement automatic traffic management strategies, and was combined with other datasets by O2 to investigate exposure to poor air quality. The University of Reading, working with Stantec, produced detailed papers on the accuracy and deployment of the equipment and on the effectiveness of management strategies. The insights, such as the implications of exposure to poor air quality depending on which side of the road you walk on, were very valuable to public health teams. Funding is to be sought for a mobile set of sensors that can target a school and surrounding area, to inform the public and network managers to both minimise and avoid poor air quality.

Health has key links to transport and improving health is a driver for encouraging active travel. SpaceSyntax, working with O2, developed a health risk map for Berkshire drawing together travel behaviour, environmental and socio-economic factors. The study looked at childhood obesity, adult obesity, and respiratory illness. Key findings included that childhood obesity was more influenced by socio-economic factors than spatial factors, whereas adult obesity was more effected by car ownership, access to public transport and facilities within 15 minutes. 

Using AI to identify and predict potholes, through equipment deployed by O2 and GPC located in refuse lorries, was an interesting part of the project and working across Berkshire authorities highlighted the differences in monitoring and evaluation of risk as to what is a pothole. Although the project did not fully demonstrate the development of the AI to the level of meeting individual authority’s approaches, it demonstrated potential, and certainly in obtaining a more general understanding of the changing state of the roads. This is particularly relevant to the many miles of minor roads that just get a visual inspection each year.  

This has certainly been an exciting and interesting project, and this blog just touches on what has been delivered. What we have learnt is influencing how we address data as a council, and how we change our approach and policy going forward, to better use innovation in meeting the challenges both of delivering our services and tackling climate change.

We will be certainly looking at the potential opportunities in Live Labs 2.

You can find out more about the Thames Valley project in a more detailed report here.

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