Future-proof infrastructure increasingly important

Mon 17 September 2018

How do you design future-proof infrastructure if you do not know what the future looks like? How do you make this design concrete and robust? We spoke with Jos Timmermans (TU Delft), course leader of the new course Design of infrastructures under uncertainty, about the urgency of this question and the possibilities offered by the EMA method.

How urgent is the demand for robust infrastructure design?

'In the context of climate adaptation and climate insecurity, there is a growing demand for project proposals that can be evaluated for yield and future-proofing. At both international and national level. We are currently working on a project in Beira, a port city in Mozambique. A fast-growing city that has problems with coastal flooding from the sea. The World Bank Group wants to invest in this city, but wants to be able to assess it on yield and added value over the coming decades. Erik van Berchem (TU Delft, co-lecturer of the course) was asked by the World Bank Group to apply the EMA method to Beira and to make it generic for Africa.

A Dutch example is the design of the Vissering pumping station in Urk. Because of the Noordoostpolder, climate insecurity played a role for the future; more and more intensive rainfall. The outdated pumping station had to be refurbished to CO2 neutral. But how do you do that? Where is the energy coming from? Are we going to put windmills and solar cells at the pumping station? Questions that were asked under uncertainty. Does the sun shine more or less in the future? The same applies to wind. Ultimately, with the EMA method, as discussed in this course, a robust, future-proof design was made. Based on climate and energy scenarios that describe these uncertainties.'

How does the EMA method actually work?

'It consists of two types of software. With the first you make an integral model of the infrastructure that is to be designed. It describes for example how much water comes to the pumping station when there is more rainfall or how much energy can be extracted from solar cells, with a view to the future. The second type of software, the EMA workbench, is used to generate a lot of scenarios with that integral model. This gives you an overview of the functioning of the infrastructure under all these different scenarios. Based on that information you can make a robust and future-proof design.

Can the EMA method be used in addition to existing design methods?

'Certainly. It is seen as an addition and even as a reinforcement of these methods. For example, if you are uncertain about the probability distributions used in probabilistic methods, then you have to make estimates. If you can not make those estimates, you have an uncertainty. The EMA method can therefore be combined with your risk analysis. I really see that as a strong addition to existing methods in the civil tradition. Especially in the context of uncertainties of which everyone knows the existence, but where no probability distribution can be made. So-called deep uncertainties.

How do you see the future application of the EMA method?

'We really expect strong demand for this method. As I said earlier, climate adaptation and climate uncertainty are becoming increasingly important. The EMA method is concrete, and thus you can tackle these uncertainties. The demand from the World Bank Group, universities and international organizations already indicates this. In the long run, water boards and municipalities will come up with the same kind of questions and all want a plan with concrete measures. For example, the entire energy transition will generate a great demand for this method. This includes dealing with water management in cities. Or integral river management. What works and what does not work? What should we invest in? Engineers and consultants will want to train their own people to provide answers to these and other customers. With this method and course they can thus take an early step to enter this market. '

Is your interest aroused? Then register before November 7 for the new two-day course Designing infrastructure under uncertainty.

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