The OECD Forum Network is a space for experts and thought leaders—from around the world and all parts of society— to discuss and develop solutions now and for the future. It aims to foster the fruitful exchange of expertise and perspectives across fields; opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the OECD.
Imagine the lights have gone off. It’s winter so it’s dark. You reach for your phone but there’s no reception. If you’re not dependent on critical medical equipment then you’ll manage for a while, probably experiencing the annoyances of not being able to put the kettle on or watch TV. If you don’t have a gas stove, you’ll wonder what you and your family can have for dinner and you’ve probably started hunting for candles and torches by now. Fast forward a few days and you might find when you turn the tap there’s no running water or you can no longer flush the toilet (and if you’re really unfortunate the pipes have started to back up as the sewers flood).
We need to better understand the interdependencies across our infrastructure systems and networks.
Storm Arwen hit the United Kingdom on 26 November 2021, and some households experienced a loss of power, communications and running water for days. We are so used to being able to switch on the lights, turn the tap on or send a text that we take our infrastructure for granted. We expect it to work for us. But our infrastructure systems were not designed with climate change in mind. We didn’t plan for more frequent storms of increasing intensity caused by emitting more and more carbon into the atmosphere. As any inhabitant of a hurricane- or typhoon-afflicted nation might tell you, it is often not the first storm that inflicts the long-term pain but the storms that follow on fast behind it causing further damage before recovery has happened. As the UK Committee on Climate Change has advised in its reports on adaptation, we need to better understand the interdependencies across our infrastructure systems. If a storm takes a primary power substation out, what other key infrastructure assets will be affected as a result?
More on the Forum Network: Investors Can—and Should—Push for Change by Christopher James, Founder & Executive Chairman, Engine No.1
CReDo is a digital twin demonstrator that visualises climate change adaptation measures to help increase resilience across the infrastructure system. Developed by Connected Places Catapult, CReDo uses data across energy, water and communications assets to build a model of an existing infrastructure system and see the interdependencies between the networks with a bird’s-eye view.
Climate projections are fed into the model, along with flood scenarios, to show what future storms might look like. Working together within the digital twin, an asset-failure model looks at the probability something will go wrong and a system-impact model then propagates this breakdown across the whole system. We can see the cascade of failures across the system, allowing us to plan for an emergency, or respond to one if we have a live data connection.
We are developing the CReDo digital twin demonstrator so that in the future, energy, water and communications companies will be able to see how they can better protect their networks in advance of these storms. A power network would be able to see what the impact of relocating a primary power substation might be, not just across its own network but across the communications, water and transport networks, too. The water company might see that it is better to invest in resilience of the power network rather than its own network, to increase the resilience of the water supply. Either way, these companies will want to weigh up the cost, impact on resilience and carbon before they make these huge investment decisions. And so will the regulators as they work to guide these public services to the best outcomes amid increasingly challenging circumstances.
Through the CReDo digital twin demonstrator, UK Power Networks, BT and Anglian Water can securely share data about their networks to help them make decisions in the future to increase the resilience of infrastructure system.
Sharing data across infrastructure companies in a secure and collaborative way is essential to achieving more resilient services. Through the CReDo digital twin demonstrator, UK Power Networks, BT and Anglian Water can securely share data about their networks to help them make decisions in the future to increase the resilience of infrastructure system. As a research and innovation demonstration project, the CReDo team is working to explore the best way to keep the confidential asset data secure, yet the insights derived from the data accessible to the right parties. We have found that using synthetic data to produce visualisations has really helped to tell the story of what we’re trying to achieve.
Synthetic data mirrors the relationships in the real data yet allows you to work experimentally or in public. And being public about this is important: we want digital twins to join up across all organisations so that we can share information in a secure way to better understand and plan our infrastructure for the future. The Data for the public good report, published by the National Infrastructure Commission in 2017, set out a vision for a National Digital Twin as an ecosystem of connected digital twins allowing us to make better use of the data all around us. CReDo is testing how we might benefit from connected digital twins across sectors.
We want digital twins to join up across all organisations so that we can share information in a secure way to better understand and plan our infrastructure for the future.
Collaboration is key. We might have the technology and we might have the data, but crucially we need people to come together with a common purpose to help us adapt to climate change and keep the lights on.