by Christopher Allan, Journalist, Infrastructure magazine

In a presentation delivered at the 2022 Critical Infrastructure Summit, the CEO of Victoria’s independent infrastructure advisory body, Infrastructure Victoria, described a pathway for managing Victoria’s critical infrastructure over the next thirty years.

Dr Jonathan Spear, CEO, drew upon the recently released Victoria’s infrastructure strategy 2021-2051 to explore how different classes of critical infrastructure assets will navigate transformative change.

Here we explore some of the key learnings in Dr Spear’s presentation, from his discussion of critical asset classes like transport and energy, to how the themes of adaptation and resilience could define Victoria’s infrastructure build.

Dr Spear’s presentation centred around the projects, challenges, and priority areas across four classes of critical infrastructure – namely the transport, energy, water, telecommunications sectors.

The presentation explored how the themes of adaptation and resilience could shape Victoria’s infrastructure build, as well as touching on costing and resourcing considerations for Victoria’s 30-year infrastructure pipeline.

Prior to joining Infrastructure Victoria during its establishment in 2015, Dr Spear held senior leadership, policy, strategy, and legal roles across the Victorian Government’s Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Department of Justice, Victoria Police and Slater & Gordon Lawyers.

Victoria’s infrastructure strategy

Infrastructure Victoria currently fulfils three core objectives:

♦ Producing a 30-year infrastructure strategy for Victoria
♦ Providing independent advice to the Victorian Government on request
♦ Conducting leading research that informs infrastructure investment and policy change across Victoria, with applications for the nation

In August 2021, it presented the Victorian infrastructure strategy 2021-2051 to the Victorian Parliament, to a positive reception. “We released a draft strategy in December 2020 that had many thousands of comments and suggestions about how to improve it and nuance it. Community and stakeholder input is essential to ensuring the strategy reflects the issues of importance to Victorians,” Dr Spear said.

“The Victorian Government has responded to the 30-year strategy, and it’s really pleasing to see that over 90 per cent of those recommendations have been supported in full or in part by the Victorian Government.

“What we are all looking for now is the progress on implementation of the strategy and its recommendations – with a real opportunity for the government and other parties to [respond to the strategy] as investments, budget decisions and policy announcements are made.”

The future of critical infrastructure

Transport

One of the four classes of critical infrastructure explored by Dr Spear was the transport sector. He focused on the projects, emerging challenges and priority areas for transport infrastructure as outlined in the Victorian infrastructure strategy 2021-2051.

“We’ve got some real opportunities to better use what we’ve got in the transport sector, but also prepare for the changes to come,” Dr Spear said.

He emphasised how changing how the transport system is priced can deliver sizeable benefits by spreading demand more evenly, complementing new projects and investment as well as getting the most out of existing infrastructure.

“What we’ve been calling for as a priority is that there’s a real opportunity to use how our public transport fares are set to encourage more people to travel off-peak on our transport system,” Dr Spears said.

“And if we can reduce both bus and tram fares, this makes much better use out of those modes of transport.” Speaking to some of the ambitious transport projects in Victoria that could work alongside these pricing changes, Dr Spear emphasised how Melbourne’s metropolitan rail is highly contingent on the City Loop corridor.

“The Melbourne Metro Project is starting to disentangle the City Loop with more end-to-end services that are less reliant on going around the loop,” Dr Spear said.

“There’s an opportunity to continue that disentanglement with an additional reconfiguration of the City Loop by building two additional rail tunnels. “If we build tunnels from Richmond to North Melbourne, this will enable continued, end-to-end services across more lines in Melbourne.

That means those assets are likely to be more easily maintained, and more resilient to disruptions on the network. “We’ve also identified the need for additional rail investment to the growing western area of Melbourne.

“Building the Outer Metropolitan Road and Rail Corridor will really assist with the productivity and resilience of our transport network, especially for freight users, by connecting up the key freight precincts and demand and supply centres across Melbourne.”

Speaking on some of the transformative changes facing critical infrastructure in transport, Dr Spear highlighted the transition to zero-emission vehicles, technological changes in road management technology, and the potential rise of autonomous vehicles.

In terms of road management technology, Dr Spear said new innovations provide the ability to manage our road network much more proactively through signalling, collision clearing, and the freeing up of lanes for different modes and directions in real time.

“What our research and modelling shows is that if we use that technology, we can really maximise the use of our transport network,” he said. “It also gives us many more opportunities to manage disruptions to the critical infrastructure component of the transport network.”

Energy

Another of the four asset classes of critical infrastructure explored by Dr Spear was the energy sector, and the importance of energy efficiency.

“Any megawatt of power that we can avoid by improving energy efficiency is going to help us with the really significant task of decarbonisation,” Dr Spear said.

“The more we can do on energy efficiency now, the easier it will be in coming decades,” he said. “With less energy use comes less emissions and the less need for new energy infrastructure, making it cheaper on consumers’ hip pockets as well.”

Dr Spear explained how regulatory changes, as well as changes to energy pricing to reflect demand periods, could deliver immediate benefits.

Delivering greater energy efficiency for new homes, particularly through increasing the Energy Star Rating that is required, as well as a mandatory disclosure scheme for home energy ratings, were two regulatory changes that encouraged purchasers and vendors to have greater incentive to think about energy efficiency improvements and to value them. Dr Spear also addressed the role of energy prices in managing future patterns of demand.

“If we make sure that we continue to have energy prices that are reflective of demand – so that we pay more at higher peak periods and less in lower demand periods – combined with technology that makes it easy to take advantage of those prices, that will help us make best use of our energy system,” Dr Spear said.

“This will avoid putting high demand on the system unnecessarily, particularly on those really hot days that we experience with peak demand.”

Speaking on the transformative shift towards renewable generation facing Victoria’s energy grid, Dr Spear referred to continuing the effort that has already started on augmenting electricity transmission infrastructure around the state.

“Because many of the renewable energy transmission sites that we have in Victoria are located in rural and regional areas of Victoria, that gives great opportunity for both zero emissions energy generation and great new sustainable jobs.

“But we do need to connect that energy with the sources of demand, which tend to be in Melbourne and the regional cities. “Continuing to invest and augment the transmission system is going to be critical for our energy infrastructure, in coordination with Victoria’s Renewable Energy Zones.”

A further challenge facing Victoria’s energy sector is to reduce emissions from the state’s gas system.

“This is a particularly significant challenge in Victoria, as around 20 per cent of our emissions come from gas,” Dr Spear explained.

“A lot of that is from space heating in residential and commercial settings.

“There’s going to need to be effort over this decade in identifying the viable pathways to reduce emissions from our gas sector, particularly to reach the interim and net zero targets that the Victorian Government has set.”

Adaptation and resilience: key themes for infrastructure maintenance and planning

Dr Spear also explored how the themes of adaptation and resilience could define Victoria’s infrastructure build over the next 30 years. He said critical infrastructure and infrastructure networks must plan for more extreme weather events due to climate change, as well as other forces of transformative change.

For example, by building climate change into infrastructure decisions with consistent scenarios around the sort of climate change effects Victoria is likely to see, policymakers can work towards more adaptable and resilient infrastructure classes.

“We can also have a more consistent approach to valuing the carbon that is embedded in both the construction, but also the operation, of our infrastructure,” Dr Spear said.

“We also know that the critical infrastructure sectors do not exist alone – that increasingly, there is interplay between the way one sector is reliant on another.

“What we have called for is increasing improvements in information flow, not only within sectors, but across sectors – so that there can be an understanding of the interplay and the interconnections of how impacts on one sector are going to flow through to the other.”

Dr Spear also highlighted how adaptation and resilience will define infrastructure decision-making and planning across all non-critical infrastructure, from improved policies for social housing to achieving resilience through urban green spaces.

Breaking down the cost of victoria’s infrastructure strategy

Dr Spear said delivering the policies and programs contained within the 30-year infrastructure strategy doesn’t come without a cost. “To deliver all the recommendations in our strategy would cost around $100 billion over the next three decades.

“Now, in the context of the amount of money that is spent by the state on infrastructure, that is an entirely reasonable amount for us to be planning to spend.”

Dr Spear pointed to how many recommendations directly speak to the long-term maintenance of critical infrastructure – both in terms of assets as well as the use of policy changes – towards better use of critical infrastructure and getting the greatest productivity from existing infrastructure.

“I think that’s a real opportunity for all of us who are interested in the asset management and maintenance of critical infrastructure to keep our eye on the fact that much of the infrastructure we already have is the infrastructure we are going to have over the coming decades.

“Continuing to invest in its maintenance – and continuing to have an eye on managing the demand for it so it’s best used – is something that really pays dividends to us all.”

To learn more about Infrastructure Victoria’s infrastructure strategy 2021-2051, visit www.infrastructurevictoria.com.au

To watch a video on the strategy’s major transport recommendations visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrYuCRvEW0A on Infrastructure Victoria’s YouTube channel.

Register for free to watch Dr Jonathan Spear’s presentation at the Critical Infrastructure Summit on demand by visiting www.critical-infrastructure.com.au.

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