During the past few months, the research team has been collating our analysis and case materials for the upcoming ADEPT/FHRG Innovation Conference 2020 at Cranfield University. There is a lot to show and much of it has the potential to be game-changing.
Seismic upheavals in any sector are usually once in a lifetime events. In the highways and transportation sectors, the shockwaves of change just keep coming. From the transition to green energy to the rollout of a new, constantly connected economy, our local infrastructure is transforming in ways previously unimagined.
During 2018/19, the Future Highways Research Group (FHRG) has worked with pioneering ADEPT members in exploring how disruptive technologies can benefit local authorities and the communities they serve. Many of the benefits will require new types of relationships with private sector partners. To better understand the costs, risks and benefits, the FHRG has engaged with senior managers within Nokia, Scottish Power, npower (E.ON), BP Chargemaster and SSE.
The potential scale of these collaborations is illustrated by our research into prospectus development, network access agreements and value exchanges. Here, working with SSE, the FHRG has identified the potential to offset the entire cost of streetlighting and street furniture illumination by exchanging land for green energy. In this model, a private sector partner invests in developing the land for solar farming, a portion of which is ringfenced to provide the authority with low-cost or no-cost green energy for the duration of the lease. The remaining area produces commercial green energy for sale to local consumers or for electric vehicle charging. This is just one of nine high-potential opportunities being investigated within this research theme.
To support the many UK authorities that have declared a climate emergency, the FHRG has developed new tools for planning potential responses to the climate crisis. Pre-loaded with 43 initiatives, covering all service areas, the Strategic Planning Toolkit enables authorities to create a balanced portfolio of costed programmes; each contributing to climate and air quality goals.
Although superficially counter-intuitive, many of the climate emergency initiatives also generate significant financial benefits. FHRG analysis and cases studies illustrate a 50% to 60% saving in fleet costs when converting from petrol and diesel to electric. The SSE land exchange example above has the potential to reduce annual costs by £ 1.9M and £ 3.8M, depending on the authority. A network of low-cost road surface temperature sensors can be used to reduce gritting runs by 15% to 25%. Other green initiatives for towns and cities have the potential to generate significant revenues whilst enjoying strong public support for clean air and safe streets.
Another research theme is examining the rollout of 5G and the use of existing street furniture; especially streetlighting columns. Whilst the Electronic Communications Code 2017 permits the use of public assets by network operators, it also describes how operators and authorities should seek to work together. The FHRG is at the forefront of developing framework agreements that ensure authorities are able to realise the full range of financial, social and local economy benefits from this new technology.
Alongside these newer areas of research, many FHRG members are continuing to deploy and benefit from our more established researched based tools and methodologies in areas including Best Practice Collaboration (Mutuality), Developing Commercial Portfolios and Effective Communications. For the latter, several authorities are now trialling the ‘Clarion Process’, which offers step change opportunities to better engage with local communities and gather far more granular and representative views of customers’ priorities and satisfaction.
Our research has been converting far-sighted concepts into practical, real-world solutions. We are looking forward to briefing our ADEPT colleagues on our progress and outlining our research programme for 2020 and beyond.