Using data to decarbonise Birmingham

Local government has an important role to play when it comes to achieving both UK and global climate targets, but how can data be used to plan and implement climate initiatives more effectively? “Project 3D“ is an innovative, data led project that is supporting Birmingham to meet decarbonisation targets.

The challenge

There is growing interest in the use of “green open data“ to enhance climate action. Good data, when it‘s presented well and is easy to interpret, supports better informed decision-making processes, along with better informed policies, projects and strategies for reducing emissions.

Through the 3D Project in Birmingham, we’ve found climate action projects using data combined with expert knowledge of local communities, achieve better results. That is because they can take a problem and identify solutions using a more considered approach. This approach brings together three elements:

  • expertise (knowledge and experience in a field of work)
  • local knowledge (a nuanced understanding of the local area and people)
  • an understanding of key data relating to the topic.

Over the past two years, Project 3D has explored ways data can support Birmingham to reach decarbonisation targets, working with the local council and local community groups.

The solution

Project 3D is a pioneering free online platform collating data specific to the Birmingham City region to apply to climate action initiatives. Funded by Google, through the ICLEI Action Fund and led by the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE), the “3D hub” offers a range of data sets including open data on housing, travel, waste, energy, and emissions.

The data includes information on regional and sub-regional fuel poverty, air quality, electric car charging points, building emissions, retrofit options solar PV potential, cycle routes and more. It's all fully anonymised and meets latest privacy guidance and legislation and data is available in different, easy to understand (human readable), downloadable formats.

The data can be used to plan, initiate, and improve projects that cut carbon in the city. For example, planning where to target the installation of energy efficiency improvements in homes, or where prioritise increasing the take-up of low-carbon transport.

In the project, we’ve also seen data being used for engagement and awareness raising, to explore opportunities for new initiatives, and to make existing plans more effective. In many cases, the data has challenged assumptions and has always informed better project planning.

The impact

Working closely with Birmingham City Council, CSE has been exploring several city-wide applications of the data including:

  • Modelling solar PV potential to identify buildings best suited for new rooftop solar PV installations in specific neighbourhoods. City wide data on solar PV potential and estimated costs/benefits has been helping develop solar PV strategies for different types of buildings across the city. This includes setting targets for council-owned commercial and different domestic tenures buildings with a view to prioritising rollout of solar PV installation schemes.
  • Using socio-demographic data to help Birmingham City Council identify the best areas to roll out new transport initiatives. Alongside this, the data is supporting development of appropriate messaging and communication materials around climate change to generate support and buy-in from a range of communities.
  • The data about emissions from buildings is being looked at in relation to planning policy to show the value of policy changes to bring new developments closer to achieving zero carbon.
  • Using EPC, fuel poverty, and housing stock data to target homes for energy efficiency upgrades, including identifying properties which are eligible for different funding streams.

The 3D hub data is also being used in projects run by local community organisations including: Birmingham Tree People is combining land use and tree cover data with urban heat island, flood risk, air quality and index of multiple deprivation data to create a GIS based ‘Tree Equity Map’ that identifies locations where increased tree cover would provide the most environmental and social benefits.

Lessons learned

Although data is a universal language, using it effectively to inform community climate action is still a fairly new idea. Using data and datasets can seem intimidating, but it’s worth investigating, whatever scale you’re working at. It means you can look at and have meaningful conversations around the scope of the problem, what actions can have the greatest or fastest impact, and how best to target them.

Depending on the level you’re working at, you may need an expert to analyse and interpret complex data, but there's huge value in this kind of analysis for getting better results and bring people with you. There are more and more tools available which make it easier to access and apply data too.

Data has obvious uses when making a business case for an initiative by exploring cost/benefit or to back up funding applications. But remember, it can be useful at all different levels – from very small community projects right up to national funding programmes. It’s also very useful in developing narratives which engage people, making activities more effective. Not to mention assessing geographical areas; targeting communities; identifying the best opportunities; getting support to those most in need and delivering programmes which will have the biggest impact which all helps to build buy in for future activities and campaigns.


For more information feel free to contact Bridget Newbery at the Centre for Sustainable Energy, [email protected] or David X Evans [email protected]