Transiting Towards Future-Ready Infrastructure

The infrastructure sector, headed to reach USD 322.27 billion by 2029, with a funding push of Rs 11.1 trillion in the FY25 interim Budget, needs to follow a major transition path, focusing not just on sustainable and energy efficient projects, but also disaster-resilient projects with technology as a major driver.

Vinod Behl

The infrastructure sectorPicture courtesy: shawnanggg-unsplash

Over the next 25 years we need to decarbonize our energy systems, cities and industries by reducing carbon emissions, and make buildings more energy efficient by integrating renewable energy into power grids.

According to Siemens Infra Transition Monitor 2023, over the past many years, efforts and investments have been made to lessen the amount of CO2 emissions from the infrastructure sector. Despite the efforts, CO2 emissions generated from the existing infrastructure are significantly contributing to climate change. Infrastructure comprising buildings, water, roads and energy, is not designed to withstand disasters like landslides, floods, cyclones, earthquakes, and changes in environmental conditions.

Road ahead for disaster-resilient infrastructure

Since unpredictable and extreme weather patterns pose serious threats to the stability and sustainability of infrastructure, the challenge is to design infrastructure that can withstand natural or man-made calamities by making them sustainable and long lasting, and which integrate decarbonization measures, as well as are adaptive to extreme climate changes.

The existing infrastructure can be made resilient by factoring in regular maintenance. Since it is easier and more cost-effective to include disaster resilience measures in greenfield projects than retrofitting existing projects, it is incumbent on planners to integrate disaster-resilient features in new infra projects. The partnership between India and CDRI (Coalition For Disaster Infrastructure) is a major initiative towards this.

Under our Smart Cities Mission, we need to conduct advanced climate risk and vulnerability assessments, suggesting measures to strengthen urban infra and civic services, including urban transport, energy, drinking water, drainage, sewage, etc.

The selected state government agencies and cities need to be provided technical support for implementation of key urban development programmes. These include identification of smart, innovative and sustainable urban management projects and support for institutional and capacity strengthening measures like facilitating PPPs.

PPPs need to be designed to take into account all potential challenges and opportunities. As a PPP model is held together by various contracts like financing, construction, operation and maintenance, supply, service purchase, and insurance, one must understand them thoroughly and carefully draft them to preserve and protect the rights of each party.

Project delays and cost overruns

In April 2024, a staggering 448 infra projects, each with an investment of Rs 150 crore or more, faced cost overruns totalling Rs 5.55 lakh crore, as per data provided by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation.

Large and mid-sized infra construction projects run the risk of time and cost-overruns due to intricacies and challenges involved in construction and execution of projects because of multiple reasons. Sloppy planning due to erroneous project cost estimation (largely due to underbidding) and improper resource planning is a major cause of delays and cost escalation. Incomplete or changing scope of projects lead to flawed estimates, besides erroneous quantification of building materials, labour costs, and delays in procuring equipment. Not analysing risks arising during construction phases and not accounting for hidden costs like unpredictable weather and pollution conditions, can add to project costs.

One must clearly define the scope of the project with regard to its goal, operating system, scheduling, work items, and consider hurdles that could pose a threat to its timely completion. A well validated capex cost estimate and design to check any errors are also part of effective cost planning and control. So is flawless construction/contracting strategy, well negotiated and well managed contracts, man-hour production rates and labour wage rates.

Avoiding resource shortages with adequate reserve funding and accounting for currency fluctuations will keep costs under check. As there are multiple stakeholders like owner, project head, general contractor, sub-contractor, supplier, and vendor, disputes among them and those between project owner and construction company can lead to project delays and cost escalations. So, one must pre-plan strategies to account for uncertainties pertaining to changing market conditions, regulatory issues, policy changes, and collaboration amongst the various stakeholders.

Technology - A Game Changer

From planning to construction to efficient execution for timely and quality delivery, technology is paving the road for a future-ready infrastructure. Technology comes handy in conceiving, managing, and executing a project, focusing on the allotted budget, project quality, safety, and sustainability.

At the pre-construction stage, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing Technologies can help in proper planning and resource allocation for timely and successful delivery of projects. Building Information Modelling (BIM) helps project stakeholders have complete visualisation of the project through integration of architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing to take discerning decisions for ensuring smooth execution of the project. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) through visual models help project teams to note and rectify any issues before the start of construction.

Sustainable practices

Sustainable practices such as use of eco-friendly, sustainable building materials, incorporation of solar panels into building design, etc help reduce carbon emissions. Drones enable monitoring of construction progress at project site. Robotics accelerate construction while Internet of Things (IoT) comes handy in monitoring any structural flaws and taking remedial measures, thereby enhancing quality, durability and safety.

Pre-Fab construction

Pre-fabrication and modular construction are saving material wastage and faster construction. Recycling technology is reducing dependence on raw materials and thereby contributing to cost-reduction. Energy-efficient technologies like HVAC and smart lighting reduce energy consumption. Sensor-equipped vests and smart helmets are providing a safer work environment for construction workers. VR is useful for worker safety training, while AI-powered predictive analytics help in taking pre-emptive measures by flagging potential safety risks.

The use of modern building materials and hi-tech construction techniques not only ensure longer lifespan of projects but also help reduce maintenance costs. Clearly, with the adoption of sustainable and disaster-resilient practices and use of related technologies, the road to future-ready infrastructure promises immense opportunities.
NBM&CW - July 2024
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