The below text was used as information to prompt ideas ahead of our sandpit events in May 2022.

The UKRI Net Zero DRI Scoping project will fund a selection of proof-of-concept studies to provide evidence to support design of the UKRI Net Zero DRI Roadmap by:

  • analysing the implementation of carbon and energy efficiency measures in existing data centres, and
  • determining potential advantages of additional measures or collaboration with existing UKRI funded activities, such as the STFC-led ‘Net-Zero Living Laboratory’.

The total budget for this activity is £500k. Studies focusing on non-UKRI data centres will be considered if they demonstrate a clear relevance to UKRI objectives, and we expect to fund around 5 projects.

We do not see the net zero challenge as a purely technical problem. We also wish to address the patterns of user behaviour which can make efficient use of infrastructure and the kind of community engagement needed to overcome the immense challenges of a transition to a rigorous net zero target over a 15 to 20 year timescale.

The funds for the proof-of-concept studies will be allocated through a “sandpit” event at which groups with relevant ideas can discuss their plans and build teams. This event will take the form of two 3-4 hours online sessions (hopefully in March, date and details to follow shortly), after which, teams will be invited to submit short proposals for evaluation by a panel. The discussions within the sandpit are intended to lead towards community solutions and to make the award decision process both timely and transparent.

Assessment of Proposals

Proposals will be judged on three criteria:

  • Excellence: is the proposed work breaking new ground and changing the way in which we view energy efficiency within the DRI,
  • Evidence: will the proposed work produce authoritative evidence that can be used to underpin recommendations for the UKRI Net Zero DRI roadmap? Studies will be asked to propose recommendations backed by their evidence.
  • Effectiveness: is there a clear plan of work? Have the proposal team thought through the process well enough to deliver the project?

Evidence could take the form of measured differences of energy use in different scenarios, literature review, expert opinion or user feedback. Projects should justify the type of evidence used and its scope, and show how the evidence adds to existing published sources of evidence. Evidence from surveys may be combined with evidence based on practical examples.

Potential Concepts for Investigation

The following list of potential topics is not intended to be exclusive, but to give an idea of the scope of ideas that will be considered:

  • Integrating power storage into the machine room design to make more efficient use of renewable power.
  • Using community engagement to enhance awareness and efficient use of energy.
  • Demand management : modulating power use to reduce consumption during daily peak of national demand.
  • Re-use of waste heat.
  • Making use of new machine architectures to reduce the energy intensity of computation.
  • Consolidation of services to a multi-use machine room and/or commercial cloud;
  • Software/tools to analyse code/workflows in order to optimise efficiency and reduce storage requirements;
  • Making better use of tape storage to reduce the demand for disk and solid state storage;
  • Better IT training for users to avoid unnecessary or inefficient computations;
  • Supporting Open Science and FAIR data to enhance the efficiency of research activities;
  • Comparing equivalent scientific workflows to identify energy efficient good practice;