Microsoft and professional services company Accenture have unveiled a five-point plan that aims to speed up the UK’s mission to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In conjunction with their joint venture, Avanade, Microsoft and Accenture will work together to help utility and energy companies transform the energy system and lower the cost of decarbonising the supply and demand of electricity in the UK. This will be underpinned by open data, artificial intelligence and a workforce equipped with digital skills.

Accenture, Microsoft and Avanade’s integrated approach to UK decarbonisation focuses on the following goals:

  • Help utility and energy clients decarbonise the supply of energy by reducing the cost of renewable generation by up to 25 percent and increasing its role in system balancing — managing fluctuations in the production of electricity — while ensuring nuclear plays its role effectively as a continuous supplier of base-load electricity. The lifetime costs of offshore assets can be reduced, for example, by implementing remote inspection using drones and AI.
  • Support the cost-effective electrification of energy demand. This includes enabling 50 percent of the new electricity demand for transportation and heating to contribute to balancing a system where more than 70 percent of the power generated is from renewable sources. For example, this could involve incentivising the charging of electric vehicles when the wind is blowing.
  • Efficiently match supply and demand for an electricity system that is zero-carbon by 2025 and help clients realise a 20 percent reduction in the cost of meeting increasing electricity demand through innovative approaches to network design, construction and operation — for instance, by creating digital twins of physical assets.

SSE Renewables is working with the companies to apply technology to reimagine its operations. Analytics, AI and data visualisation capabilities are being deployed on Microsoft Azure for scalability and speed, empowering the company to generate actionable operational and commercial insights from diverse data sets. This helps SSE Renewables to be more cost effective and increase the reliability and life of its renewable generation assets. The company is also using AI to ensure wildlife is not adversely affected by its new windfarms.

Rachel McEwen, chief sustainability officer at SSE, said: “The scale of the net-zero challenge is so great and the significance of achieving it so important, we need all hands-on deck. The energy system — electricity in particular — must be completely decarbonised very quickly, so that trickier sectors like heat and transport can reach zero carbon emissions. Partnerships, like the one between Microsoft and Accenture, are essential in bringing together an electricity utility like SSE with business and digital technology transformation specialists.”

Clare Barclay, chief executive at Microsoft UK, said: “Last year Microsoft announced we would be carbon negative by 2030 and remove our entire carbon footprint by 2050.A fundamental way in which we aim to achieve these targets is through technological innovation. Likewise, we pledged to develop and deploy digital technologies to help others reduce their carbon footprints. As part of our commitment to creating a greener and sustainable world, we are proud to partner with Accenture and Avanade to deploy technologies to help UK-based utility companies transform the generation, storage and supply of clean energy.”

Toby Siddall, a managing director and lead for Accenture’s Resources business in the UK and Ireland, said: “The UK’s targets for net-zero push focus onto the energy and utilities sectors, through which the most significant impacts on decarbonisation can be made. The time for action is now, and it will require innovative new approaches, solutions and ecosystems.

“Our integrated approach to decarbonisation stems from a mutual belief that data and digital transformation are essential in enabling the transition to a low-carbon future, and it can lead to growth, new skills and competitiveness for the UK. We believe it is a perfect focus for this collaboration between Accenture, Avanade and Microsoft, which can help drive the step changes needed.”

You can find out more details of the proposals in an exclusive Utility Week report in association with Microsoft entitled Harnessing innovation to accelerate the transition to net zero