How we plan, build and operate infrastructure in the UK is likely to change dramatically in the next few years, according to the annual horizon scan report from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).
Infrastructure in 2023 brings together the predictions of civil engineers working in a wide variety of disciplines, from energy to flooding and transport to tunnelling.
The cost-of-living crisis and global economic pressures loom large in the report, which predicts that there will be less money for infrastructure projects and a greater emphasis on boosting productivity and using technology and data to drive efficiencies.
It also predicts that “huge strides” will be needed in the next five years if the UK is to meet its net-zero carbon commitments, with measurement of the whole-life carbon impacts of infrastructure playing a pivotal role.
Almost every section of the report calls for greater collaboration – both between civil engineers but also with those from other disciplines such as town planners, architects, environmental specialists and those working in the technology sector.
ICE’s Vice President David Porter said:
“Given our reliance on infrastructure, and the fact that it accounts for half of all energy-related carbon emissions, civil engineers have a crucial role to play in helping society to meet the climate change challenge...
“More extreme weather will require a greater focus on adaptation and resilience, and civil engineers can help with this. Their work can also help to ease some of the worst impacts of the cost-of-living crisis.”
Some of the key predictions in the report include:
- Decarbonisation and energy: “Huge strides” in decarbonising infrastructure will be necessary as 2030 deadlines approach. There will be a focus on energy security and low-carbon sources as megaprojects like Sizewell C kick off, and as more renewable energy and cross-border connectivity schemes become viable.
- Resilient infrastructure: A growing awareness of the vulnerability of our infrastructure as we experience new weather extremes such as the summer heatwave and possible flooding this winter. The government’s adaptation plan will be widely anticipated.
- Sustainable drainage: A strong focus on water drainage systems (SuDS) in urban developments – especially if Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act is implemented, removing developers’ automatic right to connect to public sewers.
- Transport: Policies that encourage electric and self-driving vehicles on our roads and increasing emphasis on cycling and walking in our towns and cities. The creation of Great British Railways could make track works quicker and cheaper.
Many of these changes will require civil engineers to use new technology and to acquire new knowledge and skills, which may not have been part of their formal training – especially for those in senior positions.
The ICE’s Low-Carbon Energy Community Advisory Board (CAB) – one of the expert groups that wrote the report – highlight that the share of UK energy supply generated from renewables is set to double by 2028. Engineers will need to know about hydrogen, floating offshore wind, heat pumps and community-level renewables, both to implement projects but also to help policymakers to reach informed decisions.
The Data and Digital CAB say that digital twins, robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality are already here and can bring significant benefits. It calls for a national strategy for the digitalisation of the built environment, and for investors and clients to ramp up the sharing of data between projects.
The Decarbonisation CAB says that “whole-life carbon must become part of the mindset of civil engineers”. It calls for all public-sector projects to set short-range carbon quotas or budgets to set the pace of change, and welcomes the Built Environment Carbon Database which is aiming to store data on the carbon outputs of all kinds of construction projects.
Notes to editors:
Download Infrastructure in 2023.
The ICE will host an online lecture and panel Q&A about the report at 11am on 13 December. Register here.
The report contains contributions from ICE’s expert groups, known as Community Advisory Boards, across 10 areas of civil engineering: data and digital, decarbonisation, driving productivity, engineering fundamentals, flooding, geotechnical and structures, low-carbon energy, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, transport and mobility, and water and sanitation. Each group contributed a chapter in the report.
Founded in 1818, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is a UK-based international organisation with more than 95,000 members, ranging from students to professionally qualified civil engineers. As an educational and qualifying body, with charitable status under UK law, we support our members throughout their careers, and help society to have trust and confidence in infrastructure professionals. Under our Royal Charter, ICE has become recognised worldwide for its excellence as a centre of learning, a public voice for the profession and a leading source of expertise in infrastructure and engineering policy.