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Smart Integrated Infrastructure: A New Future

The vast majority of today’s global infrastructure operates in a metaphorical vacuum. Governments, municipalities and, all too frequently, critical service providers look at infrastructure networks as individual and unrelated systems. This practice leaves them open to resource inefficiencies and operational risks, and fails to recognize synergistic opportunities. To better manage limited natural resources and more effectively harness these synergies, it is necessary to view each component as part of an integrated network.

While every nation has its own unique needs, the critical systems delivering power, water and information are complex and consistently challenged. Whether dealing with traditional issues such as leaking water mains that drive up costs, or high-tech concerns – including electronic hacking or water and natural gas contamination – new technology can improve the performance of these vital systems. It can also provide data to facilitate the protection of the critical infrastructure.

Looking ahead, the successful integration of automation and control systems, smart devices and data analytics across physical infrastructure can offer exciting opportunities for businesses, communities and governments. Next-generation Smart Integrated Infrastructure (SII) offers new prospects for effectively managing the myriad of power, water and telecom networks that impact people each day.

This is Just the Beginning

From smart phones and tablets to buildings and roads, smart technology is already improving the speed, safety and efficiency of the way people live, work and conduct business. According to the January 2012 British Royal Academy of Engineers Smart Infrastructure Report, the number of connected devices may be as high as 50 billion by 2020. Access to and analysis of operational data provided by these devices will enable connected infrastructure to be more reliable, efficient, sustainable and secure.

“In the coming decades, everything that can be connected will be connected,” said Jeff Buxton, Executive Consultant with Black & Veatch’s management consulting division. “By approaching utility optimization at a holistic level using information and communication technology, managing resource usage can be more efficient than ever before.”

The widespread deployment of smart innovations is helping utility providers track and manage energy. A recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article describes how one Rio de Janeiro electricity vendor used smart meter technology to reduce power theft in the region from 80 percent of total usage to zero. Based on the success of programs like this, Brazil’s utility leaders are considering the swap of all 67 million power meters with smart meters.

“Infrastructure will continue to see significant advancements in technology, connectivity and data capture, thereby enabling fully integrated and sustainable solutions,” said Scott Stallard, Black & Veatch Vice President of Asset Management Services and Director of Solutions and Technology for SII. “The transfer of information between systems creates new ways for data-driven enterprises to integrate real-time knowledge and make smarter operating decisions.”

SII Improves System Efficiency

Telecom companies – innovators in the use of smart technology – have deployed smart monitoring equipment to provide constant updates on the status of their networks. This type of information is helping to improve reliability and customer experiences, Stallard noted. Now traditional one-way networks use technologies that can monitor the status of thousands of individual devices housed on the network. As a result, “self-healing” networks can recognize interruptions as they happen, he added. The network itself can then notify the appropriate responders, and, in some cases, re-route information signals to maintain service automatically.

But SII is not simply the proliferation of a lot of intelligent devices, Stallard said. It is based on many large infrastructure groups interacting with each other across platforms. Examples include energy utilities that make investment decisions based on the relationships between their fuel delivery, generation, transmission, distribution and customer processes. Similarly, the water, energy, telecom and transportation infrastructure of future smart cities can make the systems more adaptable and reliable while helping to make residents’ lives more sustainable.

Buxton noted that SII data empowers advances in utility efficiency. A key SII opportunity exists in infrastructure maintenance, he observed. Currently, major systems require significant funding to build or maintain their use. But imagine regional water, power and transportation systems connected to an SII network that helps inform engineers about their true maintenance needs. SII has the ability to notify utilities about stress points, cracks and leaks.

And, just as important, the data might show the structure to be in better shape than thought, thereby suggesting the delay of certain repairs. This allows for limited financial resources to be redirected to more critical areas. Considering the scale of many infrastructure projects, even a slight reduction in maintenance costs has widespread financial impacts on today’s users.

Dynamic Pricing

One common obstacle for managers is addressing the disconnect between resource utilization and payment for these resources. Without direct connections between consumption and costs, conservation efforts can too often fall short, Buxton noted. That’s where dynamic pricing enters the picture.

Investment in smart technology facilitates the adoption of advanced pricing and rate design approaches, including time-of-use (TOU) rates. TOU rates are based upon a rate structure with different prices for electricity during different blocks of time. Other types of dynamic rates include real-time pricing and critical peak pricing.

Under these types of rates, the price levels that customers pay are more directly tied to the real cost of energy at the time it is used. Customers can save on energy costs if they are able to modify their usage patterns to minimize demand during peak periods. Or they would be more directly responsible for paying higher prices if they choose to use energy during peak demand periods. This enables utilities and consumers to reduce their total costs in tandem by effectively managing consumption choices.

Smart Water

The global population is increasingly shifting to urban areas, and drought conditions having impacted major agricultural regions of the United States, China, India, Russia, southern Africa and South America in 2012. This means water will likely take a more prominent role in future SII planning for utilities.

“As water becomes an increasingly valuable commodity and restrictions become more common, smart water metering systems become more important in effectively managing an increasingly scarce resource,” Buxton said.

Smart water technology covering key elements of plants and distribution systems will provide the capability to more efficiently manage system infrastructure and extend resources. The deployment of real-time meters will make it easier for utilities and their residential customers to track usage, while business users will receive more actionable information to control their water usage.

The integration of real-time knowledge to make smarter short-and long-term operating decisions will be particularly relevant for systems that deal with both drought and flood conditions, Buxton noted. The complex needs of these systems could benefit from reduced energy costs associated with pumping water and wastewater. Given the disconnect between the public’s valuation of water and its true costs, greater understanding of usage could help build support for more sustainable funding of water system infrastructure and would provide water users the information needed to improve their water use efficiency.

Looking ahead, future water systems will also incorporate features that will adapt to changes in demand and supply patterns. Monitoring water supplies and using analytics will allow a utility to track and anticipate challenging flow conditions. In the case of low water flow, utilities could preemptively introduce alternate sources of supply. Greater accessibility to data can likewise facilitate collaborative planning on a regional scale between stakeholders to effectively plan and manage storm/flood conditions.

Further Applications

SII is enabling a pivot from traditional “command and control” generation, transmission and distribution of energy to a market in which new participants and technologies play a major role. Distributed generation, smart appliances, demand response and industrial load shifting are creating opportunities to schedule and optimize use of renewable and stored energy, water (drinking, gray, etc.) and waste utilization in energy production.

While the impact of SII is dramatic for the energy, water and telecom industries, its influence is also reaching other sectors such as transportation. For instance, to accommodate significant growth in auto, rail and ship-borne traffic, SII will provide the data to improve transportation safety and efficiency by linking vehicles and their routes. In dense cities, transportation management systems will be able to adjust traffic light intervals based on real-time assessments of traffic flow, drawing data from transponders and cameras, Stallard said. More broadly, SII will enable greater coordination of transit routes in time of difficulty or disaster.

Greater control of air traffic and freight/passenger rail through location technology will significantly increase the capacity of these essential services from current levels. Technologies could also leverage two-way interactivity between a vehicle and its route to reduce congestion when parking. No longer would drivers be forced to search for parking spots in traffic-dense areas, as a constant stream of information would direct the vehicle to an available spot.

In fact, this is exactly the results of an innovated parking program in San Francisco, where parking sensors on the streets and parking garages are linked to sensors, which feed data into central nodes. Consumers can instantly find open parking spots on smart phone apps, the Web or on electronic signs, and payment can be made via credit card if desired (see more at www.SFpark.org). Parking prices are adjusted every few weeks based on actual supply and demand.

Moving Forward

The growth of cities, where an estimated 5 billion of the world’s population are expected to live by 2030, will put an incredible strain on infrastructure, according to the UN Population Fund. SII will allow utilities and infrastructure owners to drive new efficiencies in resource consumption as data helps manage energy, water and bandwidth use, Buxton said.

Reflecting the important role that SII is playing in future development, institutes and universities from Cambridge to Wollongong University of Australia to Carnegie Mellon to Hong Kong Polytechnic University are launching new courses and research projects. To effectively promote the rapid adoption of SII, governments and businesses around the globe are continuing to invest in smart technology.

Infrastructure will continue to apply new technology, connectivity and data processing, making it more integrated, flexible and sustainable. SII offers the ability to address the collective needs of various stakeholders in the community, including utilities, co-producers, major industrials, universities, campuses and retail customers.

Seeing a glimpse of what lies ahead, it has become clear that utilities today must factor in SII into their operational and strategic planning, as the growth of SII will be exponential and create a far more complex, powerful, yet customer friendly environment.

Subject Matter Experts
Jeff Buxton: BuxtonJT@bv.com
Scott Stallard: StallardGS@bv.com

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