Towards a sustainable 21st Century Infrastructure

The need for infrastructure investment has become fashionable. It is one of the lobbyists topics at this year’s party conferences. But only one event (18.00 – 19.30, 8th October, Austin Court, Birmingham) tries to knit together various Green, Energy, Transport and Communications threads.


Over the past six months sub-groups of the Conservative Technology Forum have been working on the issues that need to be addressed to pull through investment in creating sustainable 21st Century Infrastructures: smart meters, smart grid, smart cities and smart infrastructure, including ubiquitous broadband (fixed and mobile, urban and rural).


The investment is needed to not only support ubiquitous computing (the Internet of Things) but also to avoid the need for rationing (both bandwidth and energy) by 2015 when, without action NOW, the lights will start going out and mains power to data centres will depend on whether the right kind of wind is blowing in the right places – even if more of the country has “not quite so painfully slow” always on (except during power cuts) Internet connections.


This week, while others have been looking at who was responsible for delaying funding decisions on rural broadband and 4G for over a year, I was reviewing a draft paper on why funding for smart meters and grids (to reduce peak energy demand) has dried up at the same time as investment in new generating capacity. The answer can be found in the small print of Ed Milliband’s 2009 Energy White Paper when low risk pilots to demonstrate the business case were blocked in favour of an ubiquitous centrally planned policy which gives no obvious benefits to early adopters.


On Monday 8th October from 1800 – 19.30, in Austin Court (outside the security ring of the Conservative Party Conference), John Hayes MP (one of the new Energy Ministers) and Ian Taylor (former Science Minister) will open discussion at a meeting at which I expect the main points from the first of the new CTF policy studies (it is actually the first paper from theme 5 in the list) to be presented. The choice of venue allows the discussion to be extended beyond delegates and registered lobbyists to involve those concerned with pulling through investment in smart meters, smart grids, smart cities and ubiquitous broadband (fixed and mobile, urban and rural) to support ubiquitous computing (the Internet of Things) and the actions necessary to prevent the lights going out in 2015. 


The clash with the Next Gen broadband conference is more than a little unfortunate. The danger was flagged as soon as it was learned that the latter might be held during the party conference season. Several important broadband players face a difficult choice, particularly those who are less interested in meeting nominal targets for 2015 and whether BT has an unfair advantage, than in stimulating and rewarding investment in the world class resilient, reliable utility networks that will underpin the world of the 21st century.


I am hoping that the Next Gen event will be recorded so that I can watch and/or listen to the highlights at leisure. We have not made formal arrangements to record the meeting in Birmingham but I am reasonably confident that many of the audience will do so (they are that kind of audience) and I will look for some-one to do a mash-up of the best.  


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