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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X038858/1
Title: CANDISE: Change-Oriented Assessments for Net-Zero Digital Services
Principal Investigator: Schien, Dr D
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Akamai Technologies BT Carbon Trust
Carnstone Partners Ltd Free (VU) University of Amsterdam Meta (Previously Facebook)
Netflix Sony Interactive Entertainment UCSB
Department: Computer Science
Organisation: University of Bristol
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 12 February 2024 Ends: 11 February 2027 Value (£): 480,750
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Software Engineering
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
03 Jul 2023 EPSRC ICT Prioritisation Panel July 2023 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
With discernible effects of climate change manifesting globally, immediate reduction of carbon emissions is crucial. The UK aims to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035, of which 2% to 4% come from the ICT sector. The UN sector body for ICT (ITU) has set decarbonisation goals of 45% by 2030 - while demand for ICT services continues to grow from increased uptake of new and better services.

The ICT companies that operate datacentres and networks, and those companies that provide digital software services 'on-top' of the physical internet infrastructure begin to set their own Net Zero goals of carbon emission reductions. Now they each need to implement these goals through concrete reduction strategies based on specific changes.

However, the knowledge of what changes to software services will reliably result in carbon reductions is missing, as the existing understanding ignores the interactions between the complex, highly dynamic ICT supply chains underlying digital services. Currently, an accounting perspective is implicit in reasoning about and estimating current carbon impacts and which forms the basis for deciding how to reduce carbon. This is deeply problematic.

This project aims to create the missing causal understanding and investigate a framework for anticipating the systemic, long-term environmental impact from changes to the design, provision, and use of digital services and provide a step-improvement to our ability to pursue Net-Zero goals. Our project team represents the entire vertical stack of technologies that form the ICT product system, from user-facing digital services to network and datacentre operators. We have the experience and capacity to investigate ways to reason about and assess the longer-term carbon impact from decisions taken by users, software providers, and infrastructure operators.

Let's consider the difference between merely accounting for existing carbon emissions and estimating future reductions from actions in the case of train travel. Roughly, using an accounting method, the footprint per passenger per mile from fuel is the per-mile fuel consumption of the entire train divided by the average number of passengers (the approach is similar for impact from construction of trains and tracks).

Importantly, such a carbon footprint per passenger-mile cannot be used to estimate the amount of carbon that could be saved per passenger that was not travelling. Instead, decarbonising train travel requires long-term changes, such as modifying fuel types, train construction, and schedules. As passengers are not free to choose between trains by their fuel types, it might be acceptable to provide this information to consumers. However, software providers must not use analogue accounting-style reasoning to estimate carbon footprints for cloud computing and networks when thinking about their Net Zero plans, as they would misestimate the longer-term consequences of their initiatives.

In contrast to train passengers, software providers have a certain freedom in the design and operation of their services through their choice of architecture and suppliers. They shape demand for peak performance of infrastructure paired with instant and constant availability and so co-evolve with cloud computing and networks.

Software engineers and designers thus need an understanding of how their decisions drive carbon emissions long-term - so they know e.g. What carbon savings come from reducing video resolution? What is the real carbon benefit from pre-loading content off-peak? Etc.

With our partners that operate some of the world's largest ICT services, we study how environmental impact is driven by choices taken during software design, operation and use. From this, we investigate a framework that can support designers and developers. This will unlock innovation from a systemic, causal understanding and provide a step-improvement to our ability to pursue Net-Zero goals.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.bris.ac.uk