Assessing extreme weather impact on critical infrastructure
Just in the last week, reports of catastrophic flash flooding from countries around the globe such as Canada, Northern Ireland, Thailand, and Afghanistan have hit the headlines.
The Atlantic Canada region saw the heaviest torrential rains in 50 years, and the same goes for the Northern Irish town of Castelderg. Not to mention, at least 31 people have been killed because of flooding in Afghanistan, while dozens remain missing.
As climate change warms up the atmosphere, floods are only going to become more frequent. For every one-degree Celsius rise in temperature, the air holds 8% more water vapour, as the air rapidly cools, the water vapour turns into droplets to form the heavy rainfall causing flash floods.
Flooding in towns and cities takes a huge toll on critical infrastructure. Power cuts, for example, leave homes in darkness with no access to the TV, electric cooking equipment, or even the possibility to send a text.
Plus, in the days following a flash flood, there’s the possibility of no running water from the taps as well as sewage issues.
With an expected increase in flash floods, the UK Committee on Climate Change has advised towns and cities to better understand their critical infrastructure such as water, electricity and telecoms to adapt further to climate change – something that digital twins may be able to help with
CReDo is a digital twin demonstrator built by UK-based smart city firm Connected Places Catapult in collaboration with water industry firm Anglian Water, telecoms provider BT, and electricity provider UK Power Networks.
The organisations used their asset and operations data, alongside weather data supplied by the UK’s Met Office to present a visualisation of how flooding could affect their infrastructures.
“CReDo is all about connecting across different infrastructure sectors and understanding the interdependencies between the different networks, assets, sites and sectors,” explains Elliot Christou, technical lead for the CReDo project.
As climate projections are fed into the digital twin, as well as flood scenarios, the digital twin will present a bird’s-eye view of how homes and people will be affected.
“We worked with Anglian Water for their water and sewage assets, we worked with UK Power Networks for their power assets, and with BT Group on their telecoms assets,” adds Christou.
The technical lead explains that in the event of a flood, the town or city needs to know the risks between the different sectors and how one damaged asset can affect another.
For example, water assets and telecoms assets both require power to function. Therefore, if you have a water pump that needs energy, then a lack of power will stop the water from getting to people’s homes.
“So not only are we interested in what the risks are from something like flooding to the power assets themselves, but what the knock-on effects could be if that power asset goes out,” Christou notes.
The digital twin experimented with a small area in the UK, with different colours chosen to represent various assets. As the flooding simulation takes place, the twin can visualise how each asset will affect the other.
With this, CReDo hopes to help towns with their decision-making in operational planning, to reduce cost and disruptive impact of extreme weather events.
“It has just brought into sharp focus how interconnected this whole infrastructure network is,” adds Christou. “With this, we can deliver a greater level of resilience as a collaborative network rather than individual possessions.”
Matt Webb, head of enterprise data management at UK Power Networks, says that the digital twin, which has been running for two years, has been helping with long-term planning.
“By having this insight facilitated through this digital twin, it helps inform our understanding of asset criticality,” Webb explains.
This, therefore, helps UK Power Networks to justify and prioritise investment planning in how to plan electricity circuits in safer areas least affected by a flood, and then it can also help understand what may be affected during the event of a flood in real-time.
“So, then we have an indication of risk status, recovery time to restore and aspects like that,” Webb explains.
In the future, CReDo is looking at extreme heat as a separate use case, something Christou says is a whole different beat from flooding, and one that is on a different timescale.
“It’s not so much about direct failure, it’s more about impact to the network and the impact to capacity,” he says.
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