Why we need technology to create a more resilient future
Infrastructure is one of the least technologically transformed sectors of the economy and there is a global consensus that our industry needs innovation to solve big challenges like the resilience of infrastructure during future pandemics, the rise of climate change, urbanisation, and an ageing population.
The pressing need for resilient infrastructure is evident as governments around the world face pressure to guide a post-pandemic recovery that will lead to a greener, fairer and more inclusive future. To help transform the future of infrastructure, the Global Infrastructure Hub created InfraChallenge, an annual innovation competition that advances emerging technologies by giving innovators an opportunity to bring their solutions to a global market.
In 2021 the competition focused on solutions for better and more resilient infrastructure. Today, two mentors from InfraChallenge - Sara Alvarado, Executive Director, Institute for Sustainable Finance and Luc Lapointe, CEO and Founder, The BC.lab - join us to share their insights on the need for new technologies and what resilient infrastructure might look like in the future.
You can find global case studies that illustrate applications and benefits of technology applied to infrastructure, including technology used in infrastructure to respond to COVID-19 and other pandemics, in the GI Hub’s InfraTech case study library.
Q: The need for better and more resilient infrastructure has increased since COVID-19. What role does technology play in meeting this need?
SA: Covid-19 highlights the need for more resilient infrastructure as well as the urgency to act swiftly given the pace and impact of climate change and related social implications. Technology plays a key role as an enabler for more sustainable infrastructure through innovative solutions that rely on using system data to manage new interactions between infrastructure sectors (e.g. energy and transport where electrifying modes of transportation requires smart grid management).
LL: The pandemic has clearly demonstrated that our ecosystems are fragile and that resilient and sustainable infrastructures is crucial to mitigate impacts. Developing economies need to invest in renewing their infrastructures while emerging countries need to catch up on infrastructure investments.
In order to scale-up investments, all stakeholders in the infrastructure ecosystem will depend heavily on technology solutions to help reduce risk, ease investments in emerging economies, and provide opportunities to monitor project phases. From sensors to satellite imagery and machine learning, technology opens the door to build better and more resilient infrastructures.
Q: Meeting the challenges and opportunities of the future requires government and industry to boldly embrace innovation across the infrastructure project lifecycle. Can you provide some examples of the social and economic value that embracing technology can bring to the sector?
SA: Introducing technology as an enabler in the design, construction and lifecycle management of infrastructure opens doors for employment to the younger population who are attracted by forward-looking jobs where they can innovate and contribute to the smart infrastructure of the future.
Effectiveness and efficiencies are some of the benefits of increasing the use of technology in infrastructure development. More efficient management of the electricity grid, optimising transport connections as a system, building energy-efficient buildings, and broader and more efficient communications all contribute to a well-functioning economy and society.
LL: Resilient infrastructure is about people. It is about the households and communities for whom infrastructure is a lifeline to better health, better education, and a better livelihood. It affects people’s well-being, economic prospects, and their quality of life.
In addition, resilient infrastructure is, in part, about bridges that can withstand more frequent or stronger floods, water pipes that can resist earthquakes or electric poles that are sturdier in the face of intense hurricanes.
Q: Why did you participate as a mentor in InfraChallenge 2021? What was it about the competition that attracted you?
SA: I’m a strong believer in technology as an enabler for better outcomes and the infrastructure sector has fallen behind other sectors. The InfraChallenge competition increases awareness of the need to take advantage of technology as we develop new infrastructure projects globally. In addition, it encourages innovation by supporting the competition’s finalists as they position their ideas from inception to commercialisation, encouraging that ’scale and global’ thinking that includes socio-economic, environmental and financial benefits. Supporting innovation was the main driver for me to participate as a mentor.
LL: Having spent the past few years working on scaling up investment in resilient infrastructure, I’ve had the opportunity to see the exponential increase in the use of technology solutions to support both investors and users of such infrastructure.
The opportunity for me to participate in InfraChallenge as a mentor was a chance to share ideas with entrepreneurs looking at scaling up their solutions globally. InfraChallenge provided me with a good space to connect with innovators whose solutions will help make this post-pandemic era more resilient and sustainable.
Q: InfraChallenge is a global competition that gives participants the opportunity to bring their solutions to a global market and contribute to a brighter infrastructure future. What would you say to anyone thinking of competing next year?
SA: To consider their stage of idea development and look at the examples from the past two years of the InfraChallenge competition. There is a lot to learn from these examples on how they built their business cases and moved to the stage where the idea can be globally scalable.
LL: Global innovation competitions like InfraChallenge offers a window for entrepreneurs, technology developers and innovators to share their solutions with a solid network of changemakers and to validate their solution for more resilient infrastructure. Taking part in InfraChallenge will give participants the chance to connect with a solid global network of experts that share the same passion for technology and infrastructure.