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Why digital technology is vital in the race to net-zero

More and more nations in Asia have committed to or announced plans to reduce emissions to net-zero. Singapore, for instance, has committed to raising its national climate target to achieve net-zero targets by 2050.


Energy efficiency and renewables are recognised as being critical in this journey, but did you know that digital technology is also key to achieving net-zero emissions?


Here, Dr. Thomas Tang, Executive Director, Land Supply / Municipal, Hong Kong, at AECOM, shares with us why digital technology is vital in the race to net-zero.


What is the role of digital technology as countries around the world work towards achieving their net-zero ambitions?


It’s important to note that digital technology is an enabler of net-zero ambitions. And there are three aspects here that come to play: digitisation, digitalisation and digital transformation.

Fundamentally we tend to talk about digitisation here i.e., data. Without data, it is not possible to determine whether progress has been made, and the gaps that need to be filled. It is important to first collect, organise and analyse data to establish a baseline from which to set net-zero targets.


This can be applied at different levels, from individual buildings and neighbourhoods to a city or national level. In fact, this can be done by sector as well. Essentially, digitisation or data helps in benchmarking as well as detecting trends.


Arguably, the technology sector is a contributor to greenhouse emissions – so how is digital technology also powering the progress toward net-zero?


Technology by itself contributes to greenhouse gas emissions as it requires energy to power it; think power-hungry data centres and computer devices.


However, the benefits are also present. Smart cities, for example, where automated procedures and processes are used to operate public realm systems like water, waste management, public lighting and traffic, are estimated to provide savings of US$5 trillion through energy and resource savings as well as productivity gains.


What are some innovations in the built environment that have and will continue to drive net-zero ambitions?


Along with smart cities, other applications of digitalisation include creating digital twins, a digital equivalent of an actual physical asset, which is based on Building Information Modelling (BIM), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), data mapping and other digital technologies.


For example, by creating digital versions of facilities such as an airport or a commercial office block, companies would be able to easily identify how to better utilise resources to support a more sustainably built environment. It is estimated that energy consumption in buildings can be reduced by 30 to 80 per cent when applying the digital twin approach.


Another driver would be Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) or Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) i.e., a construction method that is centred on off-site prefabrication for buildings, which helps to improve productivity and in turn reduce material wastage. Focusing on the energy that goes into construction materials and transportation, also known as embodied carbon, is becoming an emerging trend in driving net-zero targets.


Other innovations that will help drive our net-zero ambitions include driverless vehicles, automated drones, smart grids, and natural asset mapping.


What are some of the key sectors where digital technology can help to reduce emissions, and how so?


By rethinking efficiency, digital technology can help to reduce emissions in key sectors such as transport, construction, infrastructure, logistics and power – there are many more. To share another example, digital technology indirectly impacts mining and extraction because we will need lesser resources in the future. As we transition to more renewable energy, oil and gas will also be affected as we won’t be using fossil fuels in the long-term.


What are some things that participants ought to note when designing tech-enabled products and services that are premised on driving greenhouse gas reduction?


Be innovative and creative. Don’t accept things at face value. What worked in the past needs to be turned on its head to see how improvements can be made for the future


FastTrack CityHack: A weekend of creative and innovative discussions


FastTrack CityHack Singapore, taking place on 25-27 November 2022, is set to be a weekend of fruitful discussions. Over 80 participants from various fields will be coming together to leverage the power of digital technology to come up with creative solutions that can help make Singapore a more sustainable, liveable, and resilient city.

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