Answering some of the biggest questions about our Universe has an impact on carbon emissions: the lowest as possible.
SKAO’s commitment to constructing and operating a sustainable observatory over its planned lifetime of at least 50 years is in our DNA, as is a commitment that the SKAO will play its part in addressing several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including Climate Action (SDG13) and Responsible Consumption & Production (SDG12).
“We were keen that our approach be consistent with the United Nations’ definition of sustainability,” explains Dr Lewis Ball, SKAO Director of Operations, “which is to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The Observatory has already been working hard to refine the design of its telescopes and all associated elements, taking into account its impact on the environment and where its biggest emissions are likely to come from and seeking to minimise those impacts where possible, setting important foundations for the future along the way.
Power, the SKAO’s main source of emissions
“Electricity consumption by the SKA telescopes and computing facilities will by far be the largest source of CO2 emissions from our activities,” says Lewis. “In fact, we currently estimate at least 90% of CO2 generated by the SKAO will come from these sources.”
“So if we don’t minimise our electricity usage and ensure our power is sourced sustainably, anything else we do to reduce our carbon footprint will have little impact,” adds Adriaan Schutte, SKAO Power Engineer. This explains why the SKAO is investing the greatest effort to reduce the emissions from power generation. To achieve this, the Observatory has taken a two-pronged approach in line with SDG12.
Reducing power needs is the surest way to reduce emissions. “It’s the electricity we don’t need and don’t use that has the largest impact on reducing our footprint,” Lewis emphasises.
Adriaan and his team first developed an overall power budget for the Observatory, broken down into an allocation of electricity usage for each of the work packages – antennas, networks, computing, etc. – which then became a design requirement for each of the teams. That encouraged each team to drill down into the design of the telescopes, question power-hungry choices, and find alternative solutions to reduce the overall power needs wherever possible.
As a result, engineers have made significant strides over the past seven years in reducing the power that will be needed to run the SKA telescopes.
“We halved the estimated power consumption of the SKA telescopes thanks to innovative design and by adopting more efficient technologies.”
Adriaan Schutte, SKAO Power Engineer
“We halved the estimated power consumption of the SKA telescopes thanks to innovative design and by adopting more efficient technologies,” says Adriaan.
“Having a power consumption management strategy minimises power consumption and allows us to get really accurate consumption figures, so that the power generation capacity matches our needs without over capacity, which means in efficiency.”
This article has first been published by SKAO.