Infrastructure Week: Four Essential Questions about Smart Infrastructure

Friday, May 17, 2019 10:30 am EDT

Editor’s Note: The new technologies connecting the physical and digital worlds will drive efficiency and effectiveness, but they necessitate innovative approaches and policies that create value and enable growth. Ahead of Infrastructure Week, Dave Hopping, CEO, Smart Infrastructure, shared his perspective on the future of connected buildings and how the digitalized built environment can deliver better communities for all of us. Below is a condensed, lightly edited version. Go to the Infrastructure Week website to listen to his full podcast interview.

What is “smart infrastructure,” and what does it mean for the outcomes or experiences of citizens going about their daily lives?

Hopping: Generally, smart infrastructure is the interconnection of the physical world with the digital world, and how that combination makes our lives more efficient. The ways in which grids connect to buildings or where electric vehicles connect to electrification systems are examples of the essential links of smart infrastructure. When you start connecting the existing utility grid with new distributed energy systems, or building up the eMobility system, everything becomes much more complicated, so you really need the smart part—the digital technology to make it all work in sync. That affects everybody's individual life by driving efficiency. When you're more efficient, you're more effective.

What are the hurdles that stand in the way of smart-infrastructure implementation?

Hopping: There are numerous hurdles, but we can clear them. There’s the education hurdle—getting your customers and markets to understand the capabilities of the technology. Cybersecurity is always a high-priority topic, because customers have a right to expect their data is secure in the market. Capital is a hurdle. How do you pay for the new smart infrastructure that creates the value in the market place? Funding is always the immediate need, but it is driving new, highly creative business models: more public-private partnerships, more power-purchase-agreement type business models, and more business models called DBOOM — “design, build, own, operate, maintain.”

Smart technologies evolve so rapidly. What does this mean for, say, a building that has 30 years of life left in it?

Hopping: Speed of change is a major consideration. With new smart infrastructure technologies in IoT, digitalization, eMobility storage, distributed energy systems, and microgrid, we're anticipating mid-to-high double-digit growth rates in the marketplace over the next three to five years. Ironically, speed solves for speed: the ability of digitalization to connect devices through the IoT while utilizing the cloud and the speed of networks is a big advantage because it helps lower the cost of rapid smart-infrastructure implementation. We should be able to bring the longer-lasting structures along and help them adapt to new technologies as those come online.

What do policymakers need to know or keep in mind about smart infrastructure?

A: There’s two main elements for policymakers to focus on. One, they need to be mindful about how permitting and regulations can take too long for the sake of moving value into the marketplace. They need to strike a functional balance between safety, security, and environment, and speeding up projects. Two, policymakers must ensure that we’re always building “smarts” into every new structure. We must put the digitalization into the infrastructure that we're building today to enable a long-term life cycle—to benefit both taxpayers and the private sector.

Further reading by Dave Hopping:


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