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Urban energy rhythms

Author: Co-authored by Kim Faithful-Wright, technology BDM and Phil Proctor, operations manager

Data can allow our clients to be more proactive to asset maintenance, rather than reactive. As a technology based engineering provider in the energy, water and transportation infrastructure sectors, data helps us to understand the value clients gain from their assets and with this insight, allows them to be better decision makers and ultimately improve the lives of consumers.

The transition from discrete sectors to a multi-vector, cross sector ecosystem in which our transport, utility and city infrastructure are interconnected and create a co-dependant, smart eco-system requires sectors to work together in ways that they haven’t done before. This will result in connectivity not just being confined to one industry or organisation, but will require sharing of assets and data in a new unexplored way.

The emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) also means increased connectivity between devices and the reliance of ‘big data’ solutions across the whole infrastructure network. Patrick Agese, a Costain PhD researcher has been investigating the evolving complexity of the connected network due to increased renewable generation, the impact of electric vehicles and the requirement to identify the best solution to these new energy assets to the traditional network.

“What we are seeing is a real need for a more flexible energy system capable of managing various smart energy assets. These energy assets will require robust data management platforms and IoT innovation for secure and efficient data transfer. Electric vehicles and energy storage devices are examples of new energy assets which can provide benefits to the network, however network operators need to provide access to market and robust data management solutions need to be put in place.”

Patrick Agese, Costain PhD researcher

As business pressures for driving efficiency and connectivity supersede technology security concerns, there is a silent requirement; cyber security. As infrastructure becomes smarter, it also becomes less secure and more prone to attack. We need to have robust cyber security strategies but this is further complicated by the need to consider standardisation and open protocols for certain applications.

A new skill set

There has been a rapid shift in skills and competencies required for consultancies in the utility, infrastructure and transport sectors. Internally, organisations are having to develop new skills and capabilities that were not seen as core, such as technology and systems integration, cyber-assured design, data and analytics, intelligent systems and UAV capability (just as a start).

As we enter a new era of infrastructure we need to strengthen our cross-industry ties to solve issues such as interconnectivity, infrastructure ownership, planning, integration, commercialisation and future-proofing. If we take smart connected assets as an example, how do we decide who owns and maintains the devices, data and networks? Take a wireless sensor on an EV charging point – who is responsible, the equipment supplier, the local infrastructure owner, local systems operator (DSO), the energy supplier or the land owner (airport, rail station car park)? We need to ensure that all stakeholders of this new infrastructure are consulted and that we are ensuring the sustainability of new technologies within infrastructure for decades to come, not years, ensuring they are ubiquitous.

A smart ecosystem

The challenges surrounding this transition to a “smart” world is dominated by the need for multiple industries to overlap and communicate to meet capacity demands, lower carbon and drive efficiency.

Because the span of technology is so broad, and the depth and breadth of knowledge required so vast, we cannot develop these solutions organically. The market must partner with complimentary suppliers to deliver the range of integrated solutions required. A multi-vector approach is needed with not only integration between sectors but also within the industry where traditionally gas utilities and electricity utilities have been separate.

There are great benefits that can be gained now by energy and infrastructure organisations through utilising new sensor and data technologies which support intelligent asset management strategies. However, data alone cannot add any real value. The true value is in determining what data needs to be collected, how and where it needs to be connected and what it can be used for; data visualisation and insight is vital for data to be truly useful.

This is increasingly important for the future of our critical national infrastructure as more assets age beyond their originally designed life and as we rely more heavily on them. Being able to determine when a substation requires repair, rather than waiting for it to break, could mean the difference between a region of the UK having electricity or being cut off. To deliver an efficient, secure and reliable UK Infrastructure, it requires all of us to utilise the technology and embrace the future ahead.


CASE STUDY: Enhancing existing infrastructure

Costain integrated a team of experts from academia and industry such as Cenex, National Grid, University of Reading, Cambridge University and Nuvve on an Innovate UK project – ‘Integrated Transport and Smart Energy Solutions” for major urban developments. The project looks at the viability of using energy storage to provide balancing services to the electricity network.

The challenge: The number of renewables in the UK energy market has increased from four per cent in 2006 to 30 per cent in 2017. However, the lack of storage means that this over-production of electricity puts pressure on the network and means the energy is in effect, wasted.

As we move to EVs, which are usually only utilised five per cent of the time, there is a market for harnessing the storage capacity as a virtual power plant through vehicle to grid.

Working cross-sector with infrastructure providers, car manufacturers and energy companies, the project explored the use of batteries and electric vehicles to balance the grid and meet demand as it fluctuates across an urban landscape. For this idea to be a success it would rely on a connected ecosystem to gain data from
the vehicle, charging point and energy network. This would identify new information such as the new supply and demand patterns, the degradation impacts on the battery, the commercial possibilities and charging point usage to assess viability in specific locations among other factors.


Article first published in Network, March 2018