Impact of Technology on Infrastructure Areas: Public Infrastructure and Public Services
Advancement in technologies such as IoT, Advanced Sensing and AI is leading to increasing digitization of operations across public organizations, improving the operational efficiency of organisations and the energy efficiency of buildings.
The rise of smart buildings drives resource and energy efficiency
Smart buildings make use of intelligence, control and the built environment, both internal and external, to deliver energy efficiency, sustainability and occupant comfort, as some of the key objectives. Smart buildings have high adaptability to changes in the environment and to the occupants’ needs. This concept may be translated into public infrastructure in order to deliver improved energy efficiency to public buildings that are significant users of energy, for example hospitals with high energy use due to medical equipment. Research conducted by Centrica, one of the largest suppliers of electricity in the UK, suggests that adoption of Grid Parity Renewables & Storage (GP&RS) technologies, as part of Distributed Generation (DG) technologies such as solar, combined with battery storage systems, could bring about reductions in carbon emissions.
Developments such as flexible solar, solar tiles, building integrated PV (BIPV), transparent and bifacial solar have the potential to influence building design and construction considerably. For example, in order to reach net zero energy buildings, BIPV can be used more widely. The Scottish Institute for Solar Energy Research (SISER) at Heriot-Watt University is focused on researching technologies suited to Building Integrated or Building Applied Photovoltaic generation systems. Other technologies include hydrogen fuel cells, which can also be used as an alternative energy storage solution, and the deployment of district heating solutions in which a network of buildings in a development are served by a single energy source, such as a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) unit. The network functions at a lower temperature than standard systems which reduces heat wastage and minimises heat loss, ensuring long-term energy savings for building occupants.
Advanced Materials can also impact on the thermal or acoustic insulation across public buildings, hence delivering buildings with better soundproofing capabilities and thermal stability, and thus with reduced need for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Additionally, advanced materials such as Quantum dots (nanomaterial-based probes used for optical sensing/biosensing) are being developed for smart sensors that efficiently detect various stimuli relevant to environmental or biological factors. Smart sensors, with the Internet of Things (IoT), enables data collection about the infrastructure and its exploitation to enable efficient maintenance using predictive technologies.
Data and Security
An increasing number of businesses and organisations are using Cloud Computing and ‘as-a-service’ business support tools and processes. This means that workers can increasingly work effectively on a remote basis. One of the critical success factors in business continuity, whether for private or public sector organisations, will be continued access to effective communications systems. The full availability of 5G, broadband and satellite communications options will be critical to avoid substantive impacts on business viability in emergencies. To support this, cyber security has to be very effectively managed and priority accorded to it to support the requirement for secure communications.
There will therefore be a need to improve security polices and approaches, covering identity management, radio network security, flexible and scalable security architecture and cloud security for the 5G network. Security companies and governments are focused on Big Data analytics tools that have the capability to integrate and process data in real time for actionable security insights.
The digitization efforts of governments are likely to be heavily impacted by Artificial Intelligence (AI) adoption. However, proliferation of digitization will also put a lot of citizen data at the disposal of public authorities, so efficient mechanisms for the management and maintenance of this data will have to be put in place to safeguard it. Data and insight can be used in various ways, such as predicting where repair or new infrastructure will be needed, or to understand the requirements for parking in public buildings.
Public organisations in Scotland could benefit from the use of Blockchain in data security and credential applications, for example in prescription management or diploma certification in schools. Such digital operations could decrease the administrative costs by over 90%. Increasing safety with blockchain is also expected to protect digital infrastructure from cyber attacks (such as the massive hacker attack in 2017 on England’s and Scotland’s hospitals). Implementation of blockchain in public and private organisations also enables asset management across organisations and the credibility of transactions in procurement. As these digital technologies begin to emerge for public infrastructure and individuals and governments rely more and more on smart and connected systems, cyber security becomes critical to safety, privacy and wellbeing.
The gathering and processing of large amounts of data could have a significant impact on service delivery and e-governance, by enabling new service models and collaboration with a reduction in cost. The Scottish and UK Governments have adopted a cloud-first approach to support and encourage the use of cloud computing infrastructure (hosting services) in public services. This may mean less investment in on-site data storage facilities and more in cyber security. It also may result in a small reduction in fixed operating costs but an increase in flexible operating costs.
Digital health enables remote patient monitoring and telehealth benefits
The rise in the number of smart watches, smartphones, wearables and other sensor-based devices in an IoT environment is enabling the utilisation of various connected living services. These devices are becoming the ‘remote controls’ of our lives, acting as hubs for sensor- based health monitoring products and fitness apps, as well as controlling our homes and assisting with work tasks. Scotland’s Digital Health and Care Strategy describes how technology could reshape and improve services, support person-centred care and improve outcomes.
The initiative aims to help citizens to better manage their health and wellbeing and gain access to services using digital technologies.
From early 2019, a shared care healthcare project by NHS boards across the North of Scotland will be set up to share information across primary, secondary and social care systems via an online platform developed by Orion Health. The project will allow healthcare providers across Northern Scotland to view data on patients throughout the region and would be able to provide better care to people living in remote areas. Such technology might bring significant health impacts among patients in areas where the infrastructure is limited.
Connected living is enabled by fast and reliable communication technology, potentially 5G. The development of advanced materials, photonics and advanced sensing technologies will also enable sophisticated monitoring of various vital parameters, as well as remote detection of viruses.
Virtual planning of public infrastructure
Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR & VR) technologies can help in planning property for public infrastructure. The use of AR can help designers and investors visualize a property and implement changes to the plan as per their need. Digital Twins technology can also help in simulation and planning of buildings and public infrastructure.
Implications for public infrastructure investment
- To further the goals of energy efficiency, and with the right investments, all new public buildings could be designed to meet net-zero buildings standards. According to a WWF Scotland study, Scotland could progress to be net-zero by 2040. Further development of Distributed Energy and Grid Parity Renewables & Storage technologies could lead to more low carbon energy impacts across public buildings.
- To enable the circular economy, investments in skills for recycling and disassembly technologies will be required. Combined with Intelligent Waste Monitoring, smart sensors and logistics systems, these technologies could generate new business models and revenue streams.
- Further development and adoption of smart materials in insulation, or with protective or self-healing coatings, is expected to positively affect the maintenance of public buildings, reducing costs.
- The adoption of Electric Vehicles will drive, and be driven by, the installation of charging stations in parking areas of public buildings for visitors and employees. Through ChargePlace Scotland, the electric vehicle charging offer in Scotland could be expanded to meet such requirements.
- Remote learning and healthcare systems that provide service access to students or patients within their homes could enable increased provision of education and healthcare without the requirement for additional public infrastructure. Investment in platforms and systems would be required to enable large-scale adoption.
Key 5-year perspectives
- Public infrastructure already uses smart sensors and IoT to provide data such as air quality, water levels or footfall analysis and to provide additional analytics for social care and health services.
- Advanced materials such as self-healing materials, including smart concrete and advanced coatings such as hydrophonic coatings, can be adopted for reduced maintenance of public buildings.
- Major investments are being made in healthcare IT systems to enable improved operational efficiency of health systems.
- Remote patient monitoring will start to gain traction.
- Distributed generation including photovoltaics will be installed on public buildings in order to reduce carbon impacts.
Key 30-year perspectives
- Energy storage facilities will be become increasingly standard for public buildings.
- Digital visualisation and simulation technologies might contribute to greater efficiency in planning and design processes for public buildings and infrastructure.
- AI will be used increasingly in clinical applications, such as assisting in diagnosis analysis.
- Telehealth (remote care solutions delivered to the home) will be increasingly deployed.
Implications for inclusive growth and the transition to a low carbon economy
- Renewable and distributed energy adoption will enable generation of clean energy, at the same time significantly reducing the price public organisations pay for energy.
- Digital access to data from anywhere reduces the need for travel, thus lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reducing operational costs.
- Telemedicine can help people from rural areas gain improved access to healthcare, potentially reducing health inequalities.
- Cyber-secured cloud services and communications will enable a greater number of people to work remotely, including in the case of emergencies. This can support productivity.