Connected Futures - the implications of technological trends on Scotland’s Infrastructure

United Kingdom

In our Global Infrastructure Report “Connected Future” we highlighted the technology – driven transformation of the infrastructure sector.

The Scottish Government has recently published “The Implications of Future Technological Trends on Scotland’s Infrastructure”. Whilst the report is a discussion document for the Scottish Government, and is intended to be submitted to the Infrastructure Commission for Scotland, the trends and analysis are of interest and relevance to those operating in other jurisdictions.

The report considers the future impact of technology on transport, public infrastructure and services, housing, energy and environmental management – the key themes are digitisation and automation.

The growth of smart cities will see interdependent infrastructure systems such as smart transport, wireless systems, water networks and power grids. This interdependency will require more capacity to transmit data between systems, and will in turn, create more data. Data centre investment looks set to continue to be a growth area.

Technology is increasingly important both in mitigating climate change and in adapting to the impact of climate change. The UK is predicted to become wetter and warmer, which has implications for the design, operation and maintenance of infrastructure.

We are already seeing a move towards renewable energy/energy self sufficiency in certain sectors and this looks set to continue if net-zero targets are to be achieved. In the housing sector, we could see more investment in passive heating and cooling, with charging stations for electric vehicles in new homes as standard.

Advanced Materials can be utilised to achieve better thermal stability, reducing the need for heating and air conditioning. Self healing concrete and super hydrophobic coatings can reduce maintenance costs. Light weight composite materials lighten the loads carried by construction traffic, reducing damage to the highways and the vehicles’ energy consumption.

Advanced Manufacturing techniques can enable more modular and off-site construction, reducing the number of delivery trips to construction sites. In turn, prefabricated and standardised components will lead to further automation in the construction industry.

Drones are already used for many inspections and surveys. The report predicts increased use of drones for other purposes, including deliveries, which will in turn impact upon the design of infrastructure which will need to incorporate launch and landing spaces.

There is no doubt that technology will play an ever-increasing role in how we design, build and use our infrastructure. We are already seeing the extent to which technology can drive behavioural change; the challenge will be to balance the multiple competing demands – including connectivity vs cyber security and convenience vs congestion - so as to ensure that today’s infrastructure meets tomorrow’s expectations and requirements.