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Faster fibre slows down Cornwall's carbon emissions

27 August 2015 

During the last five years Cornwall has successfully transformed itself to become one of the best connected rural areas in Europe.

The force behind this radical renovation is Superfast Cornwall, a partnership between the EU, BT and Cornwall Council.

The project’s pioneering superfast fibre broadband network now reaches 95 per cent of Cornish homes and businesses.

The fast and reliable fibre connections have been great for the local economy. Already they’ve led to the creation and preservation of 4,500 jobs and contributed more than £186 million in economic benefits.

Superfast Cornwall

But the good news doesn’t end there.

Because the project’s use of fibre broadband technology is delivering some astonishing environmental plus points for the region too.

For example, by 2020 superfast broadband will have reduced Cornwall’s carbon footprint by half a million tonnes. That’s around one tonne of CO2 saved per superfast connection per year - equivalent to an impressive ten per cent reduction per person.

These findings were revealed after a team from the project, using robust methodology and some innovative tools and apps, calculated the environmental impacts of Cornwall’s superfast fibre network.

The team then compared these findings with a measurement of the network’s propensity to reduce carbon and energy consumption to discover its carbon abatement potential.

Measuring the impact of the network took into consideration things like building the infrastructure, deploying fibre cabinets, the electricity needed to power the network, and the fuel burned by BT vans, trucks and other vehicles.

The next step was to evaluate all the positive impacts of the fibre network.

These included the diminished carbon footprints of people able to work from home instead of commuting (in Cornwall the average commute is an energy-sapping 24 miles) and the effects of ordering goods online as opposed to people making journeys to the shops.

Also factored in were savings and efficiencies made by Cornish businesses able to invest in more efficient and cost-effective cloud-based technology thanks to their high-speed connections.

To help calculate these numbers, the researchers used tools such as a purpose-built Green Gauge calculator to capture carbon footprints of fibre broadband users.

Overall the findings give a valuable insight into how fibre broadband technology can play a significant role in helping rural communities cut carbon and save energy.

Data gathered by the research team shows that the Superfast Cornwall programme could have a net positive impact saving an estimated 581,146 tonnes of CO2 over the nine year study period (2011 - 2020) - equivalent to a staggering 25 times the carbon emissions associated with the network.

Ranulf Scarbrough, director of the Superfast Cornwall project, is in no doubt about the significance of these findings:

“This is a study that those involved with other high-speed fibre deployment projects around the world should read with optimism.”

“Not only is the Superfast Cornwall network helping Cornwall to flourish economically and socially, it’s going to help us stay clean and green for many years to come. Our network will save us twenty-five times the carbon it generates. Twenty-five times. That is an incredible story.”

Continues Scarbrough: “Thanks to superfast broadband there will be less traffic, less pollution, and less packaging and waste.”

“But the benefits delivered by the Superfast Cornwall programme go way beyond carbon reduction figures.”

“We’ve helped hundreds of thousands of people to get online for the first time. We’ve connected remote communities from the Scilly Isles to Saltash and enabled people to access all sorts of essential online services from the NHS, schools, colleges and more. It’s a magnificent illustration of how the power of communications can make a better world.”  

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