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#UniForReading: University researchers helping Thames Valley towns reduce CO2 emissions and improve air quality – University of Reading

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#UniForReading: University researchers helping Thames Valley towns reduce CO2 emissions and improve air quality

Release Date 21 January 2021


University of Reading researchers are helping towns across Berkshire reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and improve air quality through a mix of energy management and traffic management initiatives.

The Thames Valley Live Lab, part of the £22.9m Department for Transport funded ADEPT SMART Places Live Labs programme, went live in 2019. The project is a collaboration between the University of Reading (School of the Built Environment), energy software specialist Smarter Grid Solutions, technology giants O2 and Siemens, engineering consultancy Stantec, and the six local authorities across Berkshire. 

The Thames Valley Live Lab is one of eight projects across the UK that will see the adoption of innovative digital technologies across the local highway network to help local authorities move towards net-zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. As part of the project, the University will be helping install 30 low-cost air pollution sensors across the Thames Valley region, to monitor how smarter traffic management could improve air quality and benefit public health.

The announcement comes as a new report on the health impacts of climate change in Reading revealed that air pollution from traffic had not been reduced as much as from other sources, with deaths from respiratory diseases rising locally.

Researchers from the University's School of the Built Environment, led by Professor Tim Dixon, are also playing an important role in the energy management side of the project. Dr Phil Coker and Dr Stefan Smith are providing expertise to help energy management pilot trials deliver cost reductions and carbon savings at a number of local authority sites in the Thames Valley region.

The Thames Valley Live Lab project partnership was awarded £4.75 million as part of the ADEPT (Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning & Transport) SMART Places Live Labs Programme, a two-year project funded by the Department for Transport and supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin's Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway, and WSP. The local-authority led programme is designed to transform local places through digital innovation across SMART mobility, transport, highways maintenance, data, energy and communications.

Reducing CO2 emissions

The Live Lab system is a cloud-based smart energy operations platform. It can schedule when energy assets should be operated to save money, reduce CO2 emissions, and manage local authority owned Distributed Energy Resources (DER) across the sites. Functionalities include setting electric vehicle (EV) charge rates and being able to remotely schedule building energy usage and EV charging point operation.

Reading and Wokingham were the first two councils to connect their energy assets to the platform, which will monitor and manage solar panels, EV charging points and other electrical equipment at the local authorities' facilities.

Dr Stefan Smith, University of Reading, said: "It is fantastic to be part of this important project, which will help drive initiatives for reducing carbon dioxide emissions across the Thames Valley. Against a background of dramatic changes in electricity use and generation, the timing of demand for electricity can help reduce energy bills while also benefiting the wider energy system.

"Smart control of electric vehicle charging, for example, has the potential to help reduce the need for expensive reinforcement of the electricity grid, as well as reducing overall carbon emissions by encouraging people to charge them at times when renewable energy production is highest.  The ability to vary charging profiles and times helps to enable some flexibility in demand. We are also conducting simulation and analysis of the future potential to scale up the energy management trials to regional and national levels."

Simon Beasley, network and parking manager at Reading Borough Council and Live Lab project lead, said: "Having a system that can control when and how solar panels, electric vehicle charging points and other energy assets operate is a game changer.

"We'll be able to save money, reduce our CO2 emissions, and better manage our energy across our sites. The data that will be generated by this part of the project will also play a wider role in improving the lives of people living and working in Reading and the surrounding area."

Improving air quality

The Thames Valley Live Lab project covers health, mobility and transport. It aims to gather data on road surfaces, traffic hotspots and air quality to help improve the lives of local people.

Using the newly installed sensors, Dr Zhiwen Luo and Dr Said Munir, School of the Built Environment, will be able to estimate air pollution concentration, the population exposure and the resultant health benefits from improved traffic management. In partnership with the industry partners, including O2, this will lead to the development of a dynamic public health tool for better decision-making by local authorities and improved information for transport users.

Dr Zhiwen Luo said: "Air quality is a key issue for public health. In this project, we will be able to integrate the traffic data, air pollution data and human mobility data to have a better understanding of the dynamic air pollution exposure in the region and to provide useful information for different end-users. With our modelling work, we can also see the impact of different interventions at different scales on air quality and therefore health."

Giles Perkins, Live Labs Programme Director said: "As we have seen in recent news, the explicit link between air quality and impact on people's lives is clear. This development in Reading allows for a much more granular understanding of local air quality, vital for improving our communities."

Cllr Gregor Murray, executive member for climate emergency at Wokingham Borough Council, said: "We are thrilled to be involved in such an exciting project which brings us one step closer to our goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2030.  We are working to improve the air quality in and around Wokingham Borough, so we're pleased to have this opportunity to work in partnership with Reading Council and the University of Reading to reach a common goal."

For further information on the ADEPT Smart Places Live Labs Progamme, please click here.


Image credit: Graham Horn / Inner Distribution Road / CC BY-SA 2.0


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