Billion dollar supercomputer boost for UK power predictions

Billion dollar supercomputer boost for UK power predictions

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The UK’s Met Office is to spend £854m ($1bn) on a new supercomputer with a performance boost of six times to improve forecasting of the weather and the the power grid, but that still won’t reach exascale computing requirements until 2030.

As wind power and solar energy become more dominant in the mix, forecasting the balance of demand and supply is vital.  

The current supercomputer from Cray will be replaced from the end of 2022, and the specification sees a performance requirement six times higher at a cost of £854m. This will need to be increased by a factor of three by 2032 as part of a £1.2bn ($1.5bn) contract which has yet to go out to supercomputer makers. One of the key requirements is to provide more detailed information for the energy sector to help them mitigate against potential energy blackouts and surges.

The current system of three Cray XC40 supercomputers has 460,000 compute cores capable of 14PFLOPS operations per second with 2Pbytes of memory and 24Pbytes of storage. It takes in 215bn weather observations from all over the world ach day as part of the current atmospheric model that is built with over a million lines of code. The boost will see 84PFLOPS in 2023 with a move to 2.5ExaFLOPS, or exascale computing, in the years following.

“The new supercomputer will also strengthen the UK’s supercomputing and data technology capabilities, driving forward innovation and growing world-class skills across supercomputing, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence,” said Alok Sharma,Business and Energy Secretary.

“This investment will ultimately provide earlier more accurate warning of severe weather, the information needed to build a more resilient world in a changing climate and help support the transition to a low carbon economy across the UK,” said Professor Penny Endersby, Chief Executive of the Met Office. “It will help the UK to continue to lead the field in weather and climate science and services, working collaboratively to ensure that the benefits of our work help government, the public and industry make better decisions to stay safe and thrive.

The supercomputer will also be part of an ambitious UK project to create a digital twin of the Earth’s clmate.  “The improved processing power will deliver a step-change in weather forecasting and climate modelling capability for the UK, such as the further development of the Earth Systems Model, which involves collaboration with the many UKRI-NERC funded research centres,” said Professor Ted Shepherd, chair of the UK government’s Science Review Group.

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