Jason Horner, Head of Infrastructure Services, discusses that with the UK population set to increase by a further 10 million by 2037, we need to invest heavily in new infrastructure just to standstill.
The recent ‘State of the Nation’ report by the Institution of Civil Engineers has captured the need for significant investment in energy, transport, waste and water infrastructure to ensure continuous economic growth in the context of considerable population growth. What it doesn’t do however, is make any significant mention of the greatest economic and sustainable solution available – smarter infrastructure.
Infrastructure is designed to meet peak demands. As the population grows our peak demand will increase, therefore we have to ensure that we extend our existing primary infrastructure and build a backup to provide at least an ‘N-1’ level of resilience. If we flatten the peaks by spreading demand over a day, a season, or a year, then we free up capacity and increase resilience; effectively the same infrastructure can do more work. This increased efficiency can also improve returns on any capital invested.
This approach is not new and is widely used in energy and transport sectors. Both are investing capital in trial projects and research and development to deliver smarter networks that track, and therefore respond, to demand. More importantly this smarter infrastructure will allow demand to be reduced in order to respond to limiting supply: through the sale of electricity using standby generation plant in our industrial sector; or by consumers having technologies that react to changes in frequency when our national transmission grid is at capacity; or in the development of consumer tariffs where energy users opt to turn off non-critical apparatus during short-lived demand peaks.
This is the smart infrastructure solution, the sustainable infrastructure solution and ultimately the most economic form of investment. So are we a smarter nation?