National Physical Laboratory

FAQs

Answers to a range of questions that we have been asked about the Centre for Carbon Measurement.
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  1. Why do we need a Centre for Carbon Measurement?
  2. What would happen if the Centre for Carbon Measurement didn’t exist?
  3. Why is a measurement infrastructure so important?
  4. Why is the National Physical Laboratory the right place to house the hub of the Centre for Carbon Measurement?
  5. Why is the Centre for Carbon Measurement being developed now, when the climate change act was in 2008?
  6. Is the current measurement infrastructure in climate science and the low carbon economy inadequate?
  7. Is climate change data currently unreliable?
  8. Is the Centre for Carbon Measurement about measuring things at ever-increasing accuracies?
  9. How far can we rely on current claims from green technologies?
  10. What support from industry does the Centre for Carbon Measurement have?
  11. Which organisations are members of the Stakeholder Advisory Forum?
  12. Will the Centre for Carbon Measurement create new jobs?
  13. What financial return on investment will the Centre for Carbon Measurement give the UK?
  14. How will the Centre physically manifest itself?
  15. How can businesses access the Centre’s expertise?

1. Why do we need a Centre for Carbon Measurement?

To successfully reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions, and achieve our ultimate goal of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we need a supporting infrastructure that includes science and technology alongside policy and regulation. 

One critical part of this is a measurement infrastructure. The Centre for Carbon Measurement will provide this - supporting the UK economy in relation to low carbon and climate science.  

2. What would happen if the Centre for Carbon Measurement didn’t exist?

A failure to establish the Centre for Carbon Measurement would result in:

  • The loss of the UK lead and influence in some important areas. Other National Measurement Institutes (NMIs) at present regard the UK’s National Measurement Institute, the National Physical Laboratory, as leading the way in Europe or globally in many of these areas. This perception, and the influence and advantage it provides for the UK, would be lost if we fail to capitalise on this and other nations take the lead. A number of other NMIs (notably NIST in the US) are beginning to invest heavily in a number of the areas the Centre for Carbon Measurement is set up to tackle.
  • The loss of economic impact associated with the development of the Centre: specifically in development and take up of UK technologies and products.
  • Fragmentation of activity in this area across the UK, thereby resulting in inefficient and ineffective public sector investment and considerably increasing the risk of duplication.

3. Why is a measurement infrastructure so important?

Measurement is critical to just about every aspect of our daily lives. We take for granted the   accuracy and consistency of measurements going on all around us and on which we depend – often for our lives.  When we buy 50 litres of petrol we don’t doubt we’re getting 50 litres.  If we’re on an aeroplane or in a car their continued and safe operation depends on hundreds of measurements being made every second.  If we require radiotherapy treatment for cancer – our life depends on accurate and consistent measurements of the radiation dose being delivered.

This is the result of an often invisible web of scientific, technical, organisational and regulatory infrastructure. At the heart of that are National Measurement Institutes – in the UK NPL – developing and applying new measurement science and technology and working with our international partners to ensure global consistency and agreement.

As new technology, activities and challenges arise this measurement infrastructure needs to keep in step. Climate change is a new challenge and the CCM is about ensuring the measurement infrastructure is there to support all these responses to the challenge of climate change.

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4. Why is the National Physical Laboratory the right place to house the hub of the Centre for Carbon Measurement?

NPL is the UK’s National Measurement Institute – the organisation responsible for developing and applying new measurement science and technology and working with international partners to ensure global consistency and agreement.

  • NPL represents the UK in an international network of laboratories that is responsible for maintaining the international measurement system that in turn ensures confidence and consistency in measurement across the globe.
  • NPL is recognised internationally as being in the premier league of such laboratories (alongside the US and Germany) and in many of the areas relevant to the Centre for Carbon Measurement already has a world-leading track record and reputation.
  • NPL’s role as a National Measurement Institute means the organisation interacts and collaborates with an enormous number of universities, research institutes, businesses and government departments – which is vital for ensuring a coordinated approach to the challenge of measurements for climate change.
  • NPL has an excellent track record, unrivalled internationally, of being the National Measurement Institute that delivers the biggest bang for buck – in terms of science and technology actually making a real difference to economic growth and to environmental and other social impacts.
  • NPL already has significant expertise in measurement for climate science and the low carbon economy. For instance, we worked a number of years ago with DEFRA on some of the measurement science behind the way in which we estimate the total GHG inventory for the UK and we are working with them now on looking at how we can better estimate the contribution agriculture makes to that inventory.

5. Why is the Centre for Carbon Measurement being developed now, when the climate change act was in 2008?

NPL has been working in areas of relevance to climate science and a low carbon future for many years. For instance, NPL has a world leading capability in measurement science to support aspects of climate data collection (such as earth observation) and provides many of the highly accurate gas mixtures that are used to calibrate the international Global Atmospheric monitoring system.

Consultation with a wide range of people in government, business and academia demonstrated the need to increase the scale of work in this area, in order to continue to provide the support UK business and Government need now and in the future.

The reason for this is that, post-Climate Change Act, a number of new and emerging challenges have rapidly come to the fore, such as regulatory regimes and an increase in the take up of low carbon technologies.  The existing measurement infrastructure is inadequate to support the additional scaling-up of those activities if the UK is to meet its 2020 and 2050 targets.

6. Is the current measurement infrastructure in climate science and the low carbon economy inadequate?

An improvement in the measurement infrastructure is required if the UK is to meet its emission reduction targets, and if international policies around climate change mitigation and adaptation are to be successfully implemented. For example:

  • The existing measurement and standards infrastructure has allowed us to have a reasonable idea of future climate change impacts. However there is still a lot we cannot say for sure around the timing or extent of certain impacts. If we were able to increase the certainty attached to these forecasts it would enable international agreements and policies to be based on an ever firmer footing.
  • For international agreements and regulations to work, companies and governments need to have confidence that the measurements being made are consistent from one company to the next and one country to the next. Equally carbon offset credits depend on confidence that the credit being purchased represents a genuine reduction of a tonne of carbon dioxide emissions. Implementing such policies and schemes will require increasing accuracies of physical measurement, as greater capital inputs and financial flows rely on the outcomes.
  • Measurement and standards infrastructure will also need to keep pace with new technologies that are created to meet our climate change mitigation and adaptation challenges. For example innovators will need their claims independently verified to secure investment and custom, or compliance with new regulation.

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7. Is climate change data currently unreliable?

As with any data sets, its reliability is dependent on what it is used for.

Our understanding of how the Earth’s climate operates and how it is changing is reliant on data collected from many different sources over a period of decades. This data enables the scientific community to say with an enormous degree of confidence that our climate is changing (in particular that the earth is warming) and that this is due to Greenhouse Gas emissions of human origin.

However, what the data and our climate models do not yet allow us to do, with the certainty we would like, is to predict what the future impact of climate change is going to be and how quickly the impacts will be felt. For instance how quickly are we likely to see serious and life threatening droughts and in which part of the world; or a more parochial example, if and when do we need to spend enormous amounts of money on a new Thames barrier.

In order to get a better handle on such questions we need to continue to improve our climate models and to reduce the uncertainty on the measurements we feed those models with.  The UK is already a world-leader in climate modelling - the Centre will play an important part in reducing uncertainty and increasing confidence in the climate data that is the input data to such models. 

8. Is the Centre for Carbon Measurement about measuring things at ever-increasing accuracies?

The Centre for Carbon Measurement aims to ensure that the measurement infrastructure to support understanding of climate science, and the deployment of policies and technologies is fit-for-purpose.  As the effort to mitigate and adapt to climate change steps up, so does the requirement to support that with an adequate measurement infrastructure.

The Centre will not be concerned with making measurements to the nth degree just because our scientists are able to. Instead it is concerned with measurement science and technology that can provide confidence at the level of accuracy and consistency we need.

9. How far can we rely on current claims from green technologies?

As with the claims of any technology, it depends.  It depends on the type of technology, what claims are made, and what levels of consistency are required across industries and sectors.
For NPL there are at least three ways in which we think the work of the Centre for Carbon Measurement will support new low carbon technologies and help to answer this question.

  • Firstly, as companies are developing new technology they want to know how its latest prototype is performing and why – which with new technologies often requires sophisticated measurements that only somewhere like NPL or our partners can perform
  • Secondly, once a new product is ready for sale – the manufacturer will want a trusted and independent assessment of performance – for new technology once again this may well be something only we can perform
  • And thirdly, as technology moves into mass production – there will need to be written and agreed performance standards to help the market grow and to provide consumer confidence. Technical input to the development of such standards for new technology is part of our role at present and will need to continue with low carbon technology.

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10. What support from industry does the Centre for Carbon Measurement have?

Our work-programme is formulated through consultation with Government, business and academia to ensure it meets the commercial and societal needs of today and tomorrow.

In developing the Centre for Carbon Measurement, extensive consultation, nationally and internationally, across multiple sectors was undertaken.  Through this, significant support for the Centre for Carbon Measurement has been achieved.

The Centre has external representatives on both its Executive Board and Stakeholder Advisory Forum including representatives from public, private, regulatory and academic sectors. Board and Forum members shape the Centre and its work programme to ensure the relevance and impact of its work.

11. Which organisations are members of the Stakeholder Advisory Forum?

British Standards Institute (BSI), Climate Disclosure Standards Body (CDSB), Coventry University, Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Energy Knowledge Transfer Network, EON, Greater London Authority (GLA), Imperial College, Institute for Sustainability, Logica, National Centre for Earth Observation, National Grid, PWC, Royal Academy of Engineering, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), University of York and UK Power Networks.

12. Will the Centre for Carbon Measurement create new jobs?

In supporting innovation to grow the UK economy it is perceived that the Centre for Carbon Measurement will both help to create jobs and increase the skills of the UK workforce in the low carbon sector.

NPL has clear evidence of its ability to accelerate the development of new technology, helping businesses save waste and improve their efficiency and competitiveness.  The existence of a robust and accessible national measurement infrastructure also helps to attract companies to and retain jobs in the UK.

The low carbon economy is challenged by the lack of depth in expertise in the specific areas of measurement science and technology, in the research and business community across Europe.

The Centre for Carbon Measurement aims to achieve the same for the low carbon economy. Indeed we have committed specifically to track the economic impact of our work and also to ensure it contributes to up-skilling the UK workforce in the low carbon technology sector and in climate science. This will be achieved through metrology training and the transfer of staff to relevant businesses.

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13. What financial return on investment will the Centre for Carbon Measurement give the UK?

Over the last 10 years or so NPL has been working with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) National Measurement Office – which is responsible for policy and strategy in the area of measurement – to understand and quantify the impact of NPL’s existing work on the economy. We aim to ensure the Centre for Carbon Measurement meets the standards NPL has set in the past of a return on investment of at least 20 to 1.

14. How will the Centre physically manifest itself?

The “hub” of the Centre for Carbon Measurement will be at NPL, building on the Laboratory’s existing capability but also coordinating and collaborating with relevant capability in academia, business and other organisations across Europe and internationally which would act as “spokes”.

Continued collaboration with and alignment of the work of international organisations in related areas (e.g. World Meteorological Organisation - WMO, Bureau International des Poids et Mesures – BIPM) would also be an important aspect of the Centre’s role.

15. How can businesses access the Centre’s expertise?

If there is a specific requirement that you think we could help with, we have a variety of ways in which we make our capability available to business, including research collaboration or contract R&D, training, measurement and characterisation services and consultancy.

For SMEs that have not worked with NPL before there is also financial assistance for working with us, in the form of the Technology Innovation Fund.

Since much of the CCM is going to consist of NMS programme work the free access to outputs from these through publications, good practice guides etc. should be mentioned.

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