By Rob Bryant, EVP, Asia Pacific & Japan, InEight
Federal Shadow Treasurer, Angus Taylor, acknowledged it was “technology not taxes” that served as the backbone to the Long-Term Emissions Reduction Plan announced in 2021. Since then, some progress has been made by the construction sector to steer Australia towards achieving net zero by 2050, however the clock is ticking and much more must be done to avoid falling short of the target.
The journey to net zero has proven a mammoth change management undertaking for nations and companies alike. To achieve Australia’s ambitious net zero goals, the government and private sector will need to turbo charge the pace of energy infrastructure whilst compressing costs. Government, private investors, owners, and contractors will need to demonstrate exemplary examples of collaboration. There is much to learn in this process if we are to see accurate and affordable bids executed, megaprojects managed swiftly in full ESG compliance and with minimised risk to budget and schedule, when both pace and cost are under sharp focus. This is no easy ask in today’s constrained supply chain and labour shortage environment.
The plan’s Technology Investment Roadmap includes three pillars: priority low emissions technologies like hydrogen and solar, emerging technologies like reduced methane livestock feed, and the infrastructure for deploying low emissions technologies. Australia has recently moved to address a persistent problem that other nations are also grappling with in leading the decarbonisation charge: delivering and storing clean energy has proven a puzzling logistical problem with the pace of solar and wind deployment outpacing transmission network upgrades.
The ‘need for speed’ in renewables construction
China erected Mini Sky City, an energy efficient 57-story skyscraper in 19 days in 2015. Last year in India, a 75km stretch of highway was built in just five days. New York’s Empire State Building went from design to opening in 20 months. To build the clean infrastructure needed to meet climate targets, organisations must radically shorten development and construction timelines. However, contractors aiming for massive renewable energy infrastructure projects will be unable to win bids or deliver with efficiency if they are still using manual project management processes. Many renewable projects are first-of-their-kind projects on a unique scale, creating a sharp learning curve in the industry. There is a major lack of benchmarking around building wind and solar projects compared to what exists around building tunnels and bridges. Forward-looking renewable construction firms are leveraging tech for dynamic, adaptable benchmarking, resulting in less wasted time, materials, and labour. As an industry that has been relatively reluctant to lean into the digital transition, there is an opportunity for stakeholders to recognise the role of technology and the benefits for both planet and profitability.
Interoperable technology cultivates frictionless collaboration
Open, interoperable tools are key to encouraging and enabling more open and collaborative project management models and will provide a single source of truth to keep all eyes on the same project data. Replacing traditional siloed, sequential project delivery methods with more agile, collaborative approaches will drive leaner and faster project delivery.
Renewable energy projects carry some inherent complexity. Each consists of three components in their construction. Access to the site selected, which might mean building of access roads, or port and handling facilities. Second, the assembly of the energy generating asset, turbines, or panels. And thirdly the powerlines to transmit the power to the grid or battery.
Facing unexpected challenges in unknown geology, weather or supply chain issues is commonplace. An agile, real time and easily accessed view of project data is therefore essential. A single source of truth in renewable construction project data makes a complete real-time view of projects possible, saving significant time when it comes to generating and distributing reports, and making important decisions. Construction management tech can help prevent delays and costly surprises when, inevitably, field issues or scope and design changes pop up. McKinsey reported that on-site productivity can be increased by as much as 50 per cent by implementing a cloud-based control tower that assembles accurate data in near real time that is both backward looking and predictive.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a very real benefit that is already being applied in project controls software. By taking past project estimate and schedule data, it is possible to offer suggestions and help project teams arrive at the optimum plan, as well as quickly review and adjust to changing circumstances with scenario planning.
Inclusive industry ecosystem approach
Australia’s audacious vision to reimagine our decarbonised energy grid is a Herculean undertaking that will be at risk if electricity transmission deployment cannot catch up with electricity generation. State government’s role is central, and their ownership of the outcome (and potentially the power generating asset in some cases) will, I believe, call for them to lead the change.
Programs of work such as Victoria’s Level Crossing Removal Project provide a good example of how alliances working to their strengths for different aspects of a project, and incentives to share innovation for the good of the program, not just the project or package, have been successful.
The policymakers have set the goals and launched incentives, but successful execution of a renewable future that is sustainable, efficient, and resilient will require a cooperative effort among the public sector, clean energy generators, clean energy transmitters, communities, and other private sector stakeholders.