It used to be that the quality of infrastructure was measured by its lifespan. Water systems might last a century, and power plants at least half that. Those were measurements of solid assets, well worth the investment. But today, dependable infrastructure is just not enough. While it must be resilient and have an extended life cycle, now it must also be intelligent and communicate with other systems in ways that were unknown only a few years ago.

“Together, community leaders are going to build a smart city, and that’s going to take a whole number of players, from transportation, water, the electric grid, telecommunications, and from the public and private sectors to come together,” said Fred Ellermeier, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Smart Integrated Infrastructure for Black & Veatch. “You’ll be converging all of these systems into one – they’ll be working in harmony together.”

This changing landscape – the convergence of multiple systems – has led to the creation of Black & Veatch’s Smart Integrated Infrastructure (SII) business. As the smart cities movement sweeps across the globe, it will change the way utilities view the future.

“Smart Integrated Infrastructure starts with infrastructure that has built-in intelligence. This intelligent infrastructure produces high volumes of data that provides substantial opportunities to be leveraged,” Ellermeier said. “The next dimension of SII is data analytics, and we’ve built a smart analytics platform called ASSET360™ that is already making life easier for utilities and communities.”

ASSET360 gathers and analyzes vast amounts of data to help users understand their system’s behavior and make more informed decisions. The cloud-based platform applies a wide range of math and visual tools to assure that the needed actions are identified and taken.

“It eliminates the guesswork. You find out what is going on in your system that you would not be able to detect with the natural eye or the natural mind,” Ellermeier said.

Analytical Solutions for Operations and Planning

ASSET360 provides two key types of analytic solutions: Operational Intelligence and Adaptive Planning, Ellermeier said. Operational Intelligence provides the day-to-day insight into current performance with a focus on increasing efficiency and reliability of operations. Information is conveyed through web-based portals and dashboards. Operational Intelligence supports monitoring and diagnostics functions that can alert a user to potential issues and help determine causes and impacts. For instance, early problem detection allows utilities to replace or fix parts before a full failure or outage occurs.

Adaptive Planning helps users make more informed planning decisions using scenario analysis and predictive analytics. These tools use historical and current data, along with forward simulations, to help users understand asset maintenance, long-term capital expenditures, compliance and other planning scenarios. This helps users to prepare for the coming months, years and decades. Much of today’s planning involves integrating smart city concepts to expand sustainability, resilience and efficiencies of operations, Ellermeier said.

“Smart Integrated Infrastructure is about converging these two components – smart infrastructure and smart analytics – and bringing them into high-end solutions for our clients,” he noted.

Key Drivers for Intelligent Infrastructure

Scott Stallard, Vice President and Director of Smart Analytics for SII, noted that distributed generation,microgrids and energy storage are types of intelligent infrastructure solutions that will be deployed at scale in the near future.

“We’re moving from a centralized production system into a very distributed, very diverse set of assets and owners, and these assets need to work and effectively scale together,” Stallard said. “We’re talking about an infusion of cash into our infrastructure systems that will fundamentally reshape how these industries act and perform.”

Distributed generation is forcing the electrical grid to be much more fluid and intelligent, while enabling deeper contributions from renewables.

“There’s this bilateral opportunity to trade energy produced locally at a customer site back to the grid and, conversely, share energy from the grid when the customer needs it,” Stallard said. “That interactive component is the reality of where we’re heading in the energy space. What used to be a fairly decoupled issue is now highly interrelated.”

Savings in Operations Through Smart Analytics

Stallard added that significant savings in operational expense are possible once utilities are able to see deeply in their systems.

“It really starts with the idea of transparency – you can’t act on what you can’t see,” he noted. “Within a big, complex system, that 5 or 10 percent of what could be eroding profitability might not be visible without this information.”

He said the emphasis within ASSET360 is always looking for information that can lead to actionable decisions.

“You can develop strategies to take action to improve performance, to remedy equipment that’s not performing correctly, to understand how emerging issues are affecting capacity or reliability. Once armed with that, then you can save significant money both in terms of operational costs and as well as replacement costs.”

Planning with a Long-Term View

Stallard said it is reasonable for utilities to plan for the next 10, 25, or even 35 years. This is due to increasing renewable portfolio standards being implemented by most states, thereby boosting the use of wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other energy alternatives. For instance, Black & Veatch has been assisting the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) with its long-term planning, as the utility seeks to develop its approach toward reaching the state government’s goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2045.

“We’ve used ASSET360 and its Adaptive Planning capability to help HECO evaluate and compare alternative approaches,” Stallard said. “In mapping out strategies to the year 2045, it is critical to leverage the power of the platform and the cloud to explore a very wide range of options. Our predictive analytics engines are able to identify feasible, cost-effective, and environmentally sound options. This enables HECO to make informed decisions about changes they need to implement in their grid so that they can fully meet their customers’ needs as their generation becomes more and more distributed. That’s what the predictive side of analytics can do for you.”

The issue becomes even more complex when considering that power must always be available, regardless of infrastructure changes.

“We’re talking about a massive transformation, massive substitution of technologies, and yet they have to continue to produce energy and serve their customers through the transition,” Stallard said. “We’re able to demonstrate the value of exploring a wide range of options. They can then understand the plusses and the minuses of different choices around technology, investments and operational goals.”

Stallard said while most utilities are not looking to convert to 100 percent renewables, many are looking for best ways to leverage existing coal assets, which are rapidly becoming marginalized. Transition planning is still vital – in this case, it’s a question of how to make the best of a challenging situation.

“For some, coal might be reduced to a secondary level for energy production relative to natural gas, and combined cycle plants are really becoming the foundation of the centralized generation,” he said. “So it may be the investment profile of coal assets needs to change because the roles are changing, and likewise, they’ve got gas assets that need to be looked at differently because those roles and values are also changing.”

Similar challenges exist for water utilities, as aging infrastructure and new technology options allow for more efficient water production, distribution and utilization.

“We are seeing similar opportunities in water for infrastructure to become more intelligent and responsive to changing water resource needs,” Stallard noted. “This is being driven by changes in regulations, diminished water supply, and demanding water run-off/reuse issues.”

The Smart City Transformation

It is the ongoing transformation of the utility industry that is driving the need for Smart Integrated Infrastructure, with its smart analytics capabilities. Black & Veatch recently added a new application to ASSET360 called the Smart City Accelerator, which helps cities identify smart projects based on feasibilities, risks, benefits, costs and tradeoffs with a wide variety of investment options. It can score various strategies against metrics defined by the user. It is also highly interactive, allowing the many metrics to be assessed across years and decades at the push of a button.

“The modernization of the city is generally taking place element by element, with each element becoming smarter, but without directly looking at how these different elements are going to fit together,” Stallard said. “Ultimately, the vision of a smart city is that all of these systems are operated in harmony, and that needed information is shared between systems.”

He said the goal is to modernize the electric grid and create intelligent infrastructure in order to increase resiliency and to improve the quality of life.

“As cities become more densely populated and as associated economic benefits move to the forefront, these smart digital devices will allow us to fundamentally transform how problems are solved.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a five-part series on smart cities that can be found in the Solutions Online library on

By Gordon Heft, Black & Veatch 

Published originally on Black & Veatch Solutions