There have been a number of initiatives by the Australian Government to demonstrate the ability of smarter use of technology to better manage Australia’s natural and built environment. Chief among these is the Smart Grid, Smart City initiative. As the US Department of Energy said: ‘think of the smart grid as the internet brought to our electric system.’
The Australian Government has undertaken to require all new major urban road projects to have minimum levels of intelligent transport system technology incorporated into their design. Looking to the future this will not be just about roads. All investors in infrastructure will need to look at how to incorporate smart systems into designs from the outset. The Australian Government is already taking steps with, for example, a $90 million investment through the Australian Rail Track Corporation for a trial of the Advanced Train Management System. The Advanced Train Management System will enable digital monitoring of the interstate rail network, providing more reliable rail services, operator savings and increased safety.
The rapid growth of our cities, as well as the outward expansion of cities over the last 50 years, has created significant congestion on urban roads, which has had an impact on residents’ quality of life and reduced family and social time. Managed motorways can be effective in improving productivity by reducing congestion on busy roads, whilst also delivering important sustainability and liveability outcomes from our transport network. Given that vehicles under congested conditions use more fuel and emit more pollutants than vehicles under free-flow conditions, managed motorway systems deliver sustainability improvements through greater fuel efficiency and reduced emissions from cars and trucks standing idle on congested roads.
In addition, there have also been various trial demonstrations of the benefits of applying smart technologies to water management and traffic congestion. For example, the Water Information Networks project developed by NICTA has developed methods for controlling and integrating canal networks with on-farm irrigation systems so that they can become water reserves and make an ‘on-demand’ water supply available to the farmer. Using this technology, dairy trials employing flood irrigation for dairy pasture production used 26 per cent less water and experienced a 27 per cent improvement in water productivity. In addition, the farms in the trial enjoyed a 38 per cent improvement in gross margins measured in dollars earned a hectare. NICTA’s Smart Transport and Roads Project demonstrated how technology can be used to better manage urban traffic congestion.
Advice from industry suggests that increasing the use of information technology, facilitated by the NBN, will also have a profound effect on the way the built environment is planned, designed, procured, constructed and operated. For example, the use of technology such as building information modelling (BIM) could improve productivity in the sector by a very significant 6 to 9 per cent. Accelerated uptake of BIM would provide significant productivity benefits to Australia, in particular a 0.05 percentage boost to GDP by 2025, according to a recent report, Productivity in the Buildings Network: Assessing the Impacts of Building Information Models, commissioned on behalf of the Built Environment Industry Innovation Council by the Department of Innovation and industry partners. The NBN will enable smoother transition for the uptake of this technology across industry.