The power for good in 21st century infrastructure

Asif Ghafoor, Managing Director
30 October 2019
Image of a city, with curved lines pin pointing buildings.
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We’re in a climate emergency. We need people and technologies to get us through it. At Amey Investments, we’re interested in how new technologies can positively impact our national infrastructure. Everything we do as a business must be done by building in what we refer to as the three Ss – 1) sustainability 2) social value and 3) social inclusion – in other words, infrastructure that does good.

Starting with 2 and 3 and specific to Electric Vehicle (EV) charging, this is a good example of new infrastructure being led by technology and data. The temptation for an infrastructure investor is to place the EV charging points in places where they’re easy and economical to install. Yet we all know how socially exclusive new technologies can be based on people’s location, age, wealth or physical abilities. So, we’re looking at things differently. We’re working with local authorities and national government to roll out technology-driven infrastructure that yes, makes a good financial return for our business but just as importantly, delivers positive social outcomes. We ask ourselves: are our charge points located across all parts of a city – not just the wealthy areas – and is it installed in places where people can easily, safely and conveniently charge their cars? Are we doing enough to bring in small, new technology businesses and social enterprises to add further value to our offering and give them access to the market?

One example is our work with colleagues in Strategic Consulting, to develop a data-rich site location map that tells us what areas of a city would benefit most socially and economically from EV charging infrastructure in a recently won contract. We’re also working on funding local voluntary and charitable initiatives and we intend to establish a platform where local people can invest in and get a financial return from their charging infrastructure.

As for item 1, the climate emergency requires individuals, businesses and local and national government to act rapidly. Our energy needs continue to grow and with new ways of travelling such as EV cars, more sustainable ways of meeting our energy and heating needs such as microgrids and district heating are crucial. To get through the emergency, the UK will need to face up to some big challenges. How will the decarbonisation of heating across the country be financed? What leadership on policy will central government provide to local authorities to give them more certainty around backing specific technologies?  What funding mechanisms are needed to provide confidence to investors over the long term? No one has all the answers and the key will be for everyone to come together in joint determination to solve the climate crisis – the biggest issue of our time. As we go about driving sustainability, whatever the infrastructure, be it transport, energy or telecommunications, businesses like ours also need consider how our infrastructure can help create jobs, develop local economies and strengthen communities.

The good news is that while the challenges are great, never have we had so much insight into how infrastructure works in the service of communities and the environment. Equally, the UK has the people with the drive and the knowledge to solve our climate challenges. Whereas previously, infrastructure investors had to use experience and gut instinct to guide their investment decisions, now data is our most powerful ally. Amey is actively using data to drive our investment decisions, for example, using sewer detectors to alert us to rising waters so that we can take the appropriate action, saving people’s homes from flooding and improving our overall business performance. There are thousands of people in businesses across the UK delivering amazingly innovative, technology-led solutions to our climate crisis. There are others willing to back innovation through funding and financing arrangements.

We at Amey Investments recognise we can’t work alone. We’re looking to work with these kinds of people – existing and new partners such as technology start-ups and social enterprises and in the investment community – everyone from venture capitalists to traditional PPP funders.

The challenge ahead of us all remains daunting but the potential for good infrastructure to tackle the climate emergency and to create social value has never been greater.

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