A world-first digital tool which enables the UK Government to ‘future-proof’ multi-billion-pound infrastructure schemes using advanced data has proved so effective is now being used by the United Nations to underpin sustainable developments across the world.
The University of Oxford worked collaboratively with seven other universities, as well as 55 private sector partners, to create the world’s first infrastructure planning tool which integrates separate information about key infrastructure sectors: energy, transport, water, waste water, solid waste, and digital communications.
The tool, called NISMOD (National Infrastructure Systems MODel) sees infrastructure as a system of interconnected networks. It simulates the capacity and the demand of infrastructure systems across these different sectors, and their ability to withstand potential scenarios in the future, to 2050.
It is built as a ‘system of systems’ – the first of its kind in the world – which enables decision-makers to predict how new policies, or major projects in one system might affect all the other interconnected systems. This means that decision-makers can effectively simulate, predict and assess risks and opportunities across the different sectors in the infrastructure network.
The development of NISMOD comes at a time of significant pressure on global infrastructure – with climate change, resource scarcity, increasing demand on energy systems, ageing populations, and scrutiny on public infrastructure budgets. Further, the increase in digitisation and electrification of infrastructure is leading to increased interconnectivity and interdependence, and potential vulnerability to threats, both natural and man-made.
The NISMOD simulation tool was developed by the UK Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), led by Professor Jim Hall from the University of Oxford.
It has already been used by the UK Government to assess a series of multi-billion-pound Government infrastructure projects.
By 2020, the tool will be opened up for use by academia, industry, and policy makers – all gaining access to some of the world’s best infrastructure data sets, simulation and modelling results.
How the solution excelled in the UK
Infrastructure lies at the heart of the UK economy, productivity, and quality of life.
In response, Government has set out a pipeline of infrastructure projects totalling £483 billion, in the National Infrastructure Plan 2016-2021.
Successive governments continued to champion UK infrastructure, and the ITRC team at the University of Oxford was invited to apply NISMOD to help shape a series of critical policies and programmes:
- Government used NISMOD to analyse £450 billion -worth of projects in the UK’s National Infrastructure Plan, via what was then Infrastructure UK (HM Treasury)
- In 2017, the current Government established the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), tasked with assessing national infrastructure policy for every sitting parliament. NISMOD was a perfect fit – enabling the modelling and review of the UK’s infrastructure needs across sectors on a long-term perspective
- Prof Jim Hall was invited to assist the NIC in developing the first UK National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA)
- NISMOD was applied to inform two major policy releases from NIC
- ITRC was commissioned to implement recommendations by the National Grid, HS2, the Department for Transport and Environment Agency.
James Richardson, Chief Economist at the National Infrastructure Commission said:
Good infrastructure is essential to the country’s future growth and prosperity. NISMOD is a key resource, which helps the Commission deliver rigorous evidence-based advice to government, and understand cross-sectoral challenges such as resilience.
Building on the success of supporting major government infrastructure programmes, ITRC formed further collaborations with external agencies:
- It accepted an invite from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) to include NISMOD solutions in a national infrastructure needs assessment for the UK
- The NISMOD’s modelling capability was used in the production of around 100 peer-reviewed publications in the UK and internationally.
Exporting excellence as standard
Following critical acclaim in the UK, Professor Jim Hall and ITRC received funding to export their research and modelling capability to the rest of the world.
The consortium formed partnerships with the United Nations’ Project Services team and the World Bank. They called upon regional experts to input local knowledge and data, then applied NISMOD as a framework to help deliver sustainable infrastructure developments across the world.
The solutions have now been deployed in Argentina, Brazil, Curacao, Tanzania, The Netherlands, Vietnam, and New Zealand – positioning NISMOD as a pioneering tool for sustainable global infrastructure.