From household to global: simulating national infrastructure to inform decision-making

18 April 2018

Institution of Civil Engineers, London

ITRC-MISTRAL’s unique approach is already changing the way that governments and businesses approach infrastructure investment. This event will use examples from the around the world to show how these changes can transform decision-making.

We brought together over 100 practitioners and academics from across UK infrastructure. In the morning, attendees heard a series of short presentations with headline messages. In the afternoon, attendees moved between eight demonstrations and nine posters, discussing ITRC’s work and posing questions and ideas to ITRC researchers.

James Stewart, KPMG, Vice Chair – Industrial Strategy, geo-politics and Brexit Member, ITRC-MISTRAL Client Group

James Stewart set the context for the day with a wide-ranging discussion on macroeconomics, technology and trends in long-term infrastructure planning. He identified 3 contextual issues.

Creating a shared future in a world currently characterised by disharmony and division.

Sustainability that goes beyond the green agenda, embracing finance, operations, technology, and social sustainability.

Security, including cyber-security, is increasingly important, with new/bigger risks arising from an interconnected infrastructure.

Some significant future technology trends ….

  • Low-cost, accessible technology so that everyone can participate.
  • Speedy adoption of new technology and changes to how we use data.
  • Data sharing will be the backbone of infrastructure systems and planning
  • Dynamic pricing for infrastructure services will become effective with the incorporation of real-time data. How will we ensure just access to services?
  • Consumer behaviour will remain tricky to assess.

The future of infrastructure planning

Flexibility will become more important to adapt to rapid technological and social change.

The pace of change is putting infrastructure projects at risk because they won’t deliver what they promised. For example, HS2 will be delivered in a world very different from when it was first planned. The UK planning process for major infrastructure should be reformed to speed it up.

Governments and regulators will have to think carefully about balance between the entity that pays for the infrastructure and the beneficiaries of that infrastructure. Social good will remain a factor.

There will be growing complexity of the public and private roles in infrastructure, with lines between the two even further blurred. Government will need to intervene in its role as ‘master planner’.

ITRC-MISTRAL has the potential generate huge benefits and deliver the ability to understand and address long-term planning and system failure. With very few existing data and diagnostic tools to assess infrastructure, ITRC-MISTRAL is in a world-leading position.

How secure is our supply chain resilience?  ITRC has conducted considerable research into infrastructure hotspots (single points of failure in transport system), and is now looking at the resilience of the global supply chain. ITRC is starting to move towards using real-time data. ITRC and DAFNI (Data Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure) will explore this area and DAFNI will be designed with security in mind from the start.


Overview of the day

Jim Hall, ITRC-MISTRAL Principal Investigator, University of Oxford

Jim Hall provided an overview and introduction to the morning. ITRC-MISTRAL has been very focused on delivering real impact for stakeholders, and in highlighting some principal achievements, he re-iterated that ITRC is still work in progress, and researchers are relying on stakeholder input to better understand how our work can be useful.

High resolution demographic projections for infrastructure planning

Nik Lomax, University of Leeds

Nik Lomax’s presentation explored how ITRC’s demographic capability helps to understand society’s evolving infrastructure needs, and provides information that feeds into all the infrastructure sectoral work in ITRC. Demographic projections explore the relationship between people – buildings – dwellings and this interaction is essential for infrastructure planning. Using micro-simulation techniques we are creating hi-resolution data, not otherwise available, to provide greater insight into future infrastructure demand.  

New approaches to infrastructure data integration and management for national scale simulation & modelling

Stuart Barr, Newcastle University

Stuart Barr and his team take the models developed by the different research groups in ITRC and from them build a single database, with tools for managing/engaging the data. The database underpinned the modelling in first phase of ITRC, and now is addressing the challenge of managing data at finer spatial and temporal scales. This and other challenges have seen ITRC re-work the original database, to create a new resource of integrated databases where users have a single point of access to the full range of information, but with the complexity hidden. In future, DAFNI will offer even greater capability.

NISMOD national transport model: Road network capabilities

Simon Blainey, University of Southampton

The National Infrastructure Systems Model (NISMOD)’s new transport model addresses limitations in earlier versions. The new version is able to predict highway demand and utilisation for passenger and freight, and can extrapolate to provide forecasts. It integrates feedback (e.g. from congestion), and covers A-roads and motorways in Great Britain. To speed up run time, routes are generated off-line. With this new functionality we are identifying pinch-points, and applying different policy interventions to visualise their impact. Today’s demonstration will use examples from Southampton to show how different interventions produce different impacts.

Towards 5G – assessing the capacity, coverage and cost implications of future mobile telecommunications infrastructure

Edward Oughton, University of Cambridge

ITRC-MISTRAL’s work for the National Infrastructure Commission to investigate 5G deployment found that demographic change had very little impact on growth. Instead, growth is mainly driven by technological change, such as demand for data-hungry services to more devices. Until 2025, sufficient capacity can be supplied by making better use of the existing spectrum. However, for very densely populated areas, additional (expensive) small cells are needed. It seems we are unlikely to attain all capacity that 5G has to offer. Following this work, ITRC’s approach was applied in the Netherlands – where the existing network is sufficient to meet demand for the next decade.

Transforming national infrastructure choices worldwide

Scott Thacker, United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) & University of Oxford

ITRC-MISTRAL research has shown that infrastructure can have an important role in realising the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). Infrastructure is risky, (long-lived, poor choices can get locked in) but provides huge opportunities. Using a version of National Infrastructure Systems Model – NISMOD Int – ITRC has developed an open-source, fast-track assessment (FTA) approach that is already in use (Palestine, Curacao, St Lucia) with other candidate projects under consideration (Syria, Uganda, Bangladesh). If we are thinking about SDGs, we need to consider infrastructure, and if we are thinking about infrastructure, we need to incorporate SDGs.


Demonstrations and visualisations

We’re working on providing web-accessible versions of the demonstrations, to be available shortly.

National Infrastructure Commission & ITRC MISTRAL partnership – using high performance computing to scrutinise uncertainty around infrastructure decisions
ITRC-MISTRAL’s NISMOD and the National Infrastructure Commission working in partnership, using the high-capacity computing of the Data and Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI).

United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) & ITRC MISTRAL partnership – supporting evidence-based planning for sustainable development worldwide
Demonstration of the National Infrastructure Model for International Contexts (NISMOD-Int) – the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and ITRC-MISTRAL partnership

Household & building characterisation for infrastructure demand modelling
A visualisation to show how we create a household-level picture of UK infrastructure demand, and exploring infrastructure interdependencies

The next generation national infrastructure modelling database: NISMOD-DB++
New ways of handling data to fully characterise and understand infrastructure demand at the intra-urban building scale.

A decision-making tool to inform planning of water resources at a national scale: the WATHNET model
Understanding national scale uncertainties in the water sector

Road capacity utilisation and road traffic – modelling the impacts of policy interventions
Looking at the impacts of policy on vehicle demand, inter-zonal travel times and road capacity utilisation in an area in South East England.

Future demand for mobile telecommunications: comparing and costing 5G infrastructure deployment strategies
Exploring how ITRC-MISTRAL’s modelling of future demand, technology and costings can inform government and industry.

Risk and resilience from local to global
We will show local disruption of the electricity grid can have impacts on multiple infrastructures across local, national, and global scales. We will also show the impact of different recovery approaches.