Technological solutions for decarbonisation

Chris Critchley looks at how you can juggle the options, avoid the pitfalls and unlock the benefits…

A new problem with some familiar challenges

For most organisations, new technology will be a vital pillar to support their decarbonisation objectives but understanding the challenges, avoiding the pitfalls and delivering the benefits are all easier said than done.

For the Ministry of Defence (MOD), new technologies will be needed to monitor and understand emissions, maintain existing capabilities while reducing emissions and enable new capabilities to respond to emerging threats. These needs could all be tackled in different ways – and the best solution will inevitably be a compromise between timescales, costs and performance.

Getting the balance right

Getting the balance right is the hard part and relies on a robust approach covering four key steps:

  • Predicting the benefits
    The pace of technology development continues to accelerate, making forecasting the best mix of technologies in different applications ever more complicated. Proven technology management tools like roadmapping can help navigate the uncertainty – supporting robust and structured assessments by providing frameworks for understanding the options, developing a strategy and identifying decision points.
  • Avoiding the pitfalls
    When planning technology adoption, benefits are only part of the story. What about the impact on the rest of your operations? How will new solutions affect training, infrastructure and logistics? To take just one example, future land vehicles will likely be powered by a mix of electric, hydrogen and other fuel sources. The infrastructure to maintain vehicles at readiness, the trained personnel to carry out maintenance (in theatre and in the UK) and the logistics to supply new fuels and components will all need to be considered and planned in parallel to technology development/acquisition.
  • Maximising the opportunities
    Increasing sustainability doesn’t have to mean reducing capability – new technologies might even unlock new opportunities. Think about the lower acoustic signatures and rapid acceleration that electric vehicles could offer, or the dramatic reduction in both the cost and risk of fuel convoys that increasing the use of renewable energy in theatre would enable. Recognising the opportunities early, as well as the challenges, will be key in identifying win-win solutions, where decarbonisation and capability objectives can both be met.
  • Balancing the costs
    Making the right technology decisions relies on a good understanding of the costs of different options, but predicting these costs is hard. The future is characterised by uncertainty – uncertainty about development timescales, uncertainty about eventual performance and uncertainty about the eventual CAPEX/OPEX. Fortunately, structured tools can help manage this uncertainty and support decision makers to understand how best to shape their strategy. From using high-level scenario planning to identify ‘no-regrets’ decisions, through to building Bayesian cost models to explicitly represent uncertainty, the right tools and expertise can bring real clarity.

Bringing it all together

If that all sounds a little too simple, that’s probably because it is. Understanding what needs to be done is half the battle, but planning the detail, making it happen, and getting it right will be a huge challenge that requires extensive engagement and integration.

Good decision making, strong business cases, clear strategy and successful implementation will all need a combination of proven tools, imaginative thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration and learning from experience. Bringing all of that together will ensure that vital capabilities aren’t compromised, costs are minimised and decarbonisation benefits are delivered in a timely way. Getting it right requires preparation. Our advice? Start now.

Looking for more insights into defence decarbonisation?

Read the previous episode in our blog series, by Andy Moore, Hello world: developing sustainable solutions with data and modelling; and check out our next episode, in which Heather Taylor discusses Bringing about culture change for decarbonisation.

Or catch up on all the episodes here.

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