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Call to ensure infrastructure is future tech ready


Ensuring infrastructure is ready for advances in technology which will change the way we live is crucial to planning, experts have warned.

Having enough electricity to meet the needs of the ”internet of things” or ensuring there is enough 5G access on roads to support autonomous vehicles are central issues for the civil engineering sector, according to a panel at the Ecobuild expo in London.

ICE head of planning Andrew Wescott said that the interpendence of different sectors and the demand that one puts on another would play a large factor in planning for future infrastructure needs.

“One of the big areas is interdependencies of sectors – the kind of demands that one put on another,” he said. “Big data and moving towards the future of the internet of things, and digital communication are putting big demand pressures on electricity.”

Wescott welcomed government efforts to push agendas such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, but argued more consideration must be put into the additional resulting demands on the electricity network.

“These technologies put extra demands on electricity so we really need to think about that transport, digital and energy nexus as we go forward. That’s really key.”

The ICE published its National Needs Assessment (NNA) in October last year, outlining the changing demands on infrastructure services. It said that it wanted to create a long term view on infrastructure needs.

“We set out to set a vision to provide a blueprint to what long term infrastructure looks like,” said Wescott. “We covered a range of sectors, waste, energy, water, transport, digital, flooding and housing.

“We wanted to bring all of those sectors together so we could create an integrated cross sectorial approach to infrastructure.”

The document is now being used to inform the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) National Infrastructure Assessment which will be published in around 18 months’ time.

NIC director of policy and engagement Adam Cooper agreed with calls to bring different sectors together.

“Talking to people about infrastructure, the criticisms are that it tends to be flawed by short term thinking and siloed,” said Cooper. “The government departments for water, energy, transport are all separate departments and it’s not easy to join up and work across the sectors.”

He said that that to be ready for autonomous vehicles, the commission was taking a holistic view to ensure that the infrastructure was in place to cope with the new technology.

Cooper said that for example, the NIC recognised that 5G connectivity would play a big part in being able to bring the roll out of autonomous vehicles forward and was putting infrastructure in place to link the two sectors together.

“We’ve looked quite carefully at the enabling infrastructure and we have recognised that when 5G comes along in the early 2020s and there’ll be a large amount of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles which require very resilient and high bandwidth connectivity to be able to communicate,” said Cooper.

“Part of our remit is to make sure some of the ‘boring’ infrastructure such as the poles on the side of the motorways and railways are there so when 5G comes along you and fit whatever kind of technology and radio antenna to it. If you haven’t got the poles and the fibre ducting underneath the road then you’re still going to have the problems of not spots and poor reception on our roads.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty around the cars, but there’s more certainty around some of the enabling infrastructure which will be needed and we can get on with that.”

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