Black & Veatch is leading a sustainability, data management and renewable energy drive with its latest report. The company says that shared challenges and solutions across critical infrastructure show industries have more in common than they think.

According to Black & Veatch, leaders in power and water utilities to commercial and industrial companies have more in common than they think.

In December 2019, the company, which prides itself on being a global leader in sustainable engineering and innovative construction solutions, released a new report that examines the shared challenges among critical infrastructure providers and their commercial and industrial customers as they each push for resilience, reliability and sustainability.

The 2020 Strategic Directions: Megatrends report marks the company’s inaugural mining of its cross-sector data to gain deeper insights into the future of the world’s most important resources. The report’s authors, recruited from across the company’s diverse businesses, analysed two years of survey data collected from water, power, telecommunications and commercial and industrial respondents via the company’s Strategic Directions Report series. 

This high-altitude look at data explores sustainability where increasing concerns over climate change are setting off alarms about the future of water and power supplies, and fuelling new scrutiny of the mechanics, cost and ROI of sustainability solutions. The report frames the conflict bluntly: “Aligning the triple bottom line principles of people, planet and profit may sound idealistic, but are those things inherently in conflict?” 

Upfront costs

A clear trend found in Black & Veatch’s ongoing Strategic Directions report series is concern about the upfront cost of water and/or energy sustainability solutions.  In a recent survey, commercial, industrial and manufacturing leaders were asked what is the biggest challenge for their organisation to pursue water and/or energy sustainability solutions. Respondents replied:

  • Budget constraints and/or upfront costs – 24.2%
  • Complex regulatory guidance – 22%
  • Uncertain return on investment – 15.6%
  • Higher priority issues that surpass sustainability programmes – 13.4%
  • Limited staff resources – 12.4%
  • Lack of support/understanding of sustainability measures – 11.3%

The theme seems to be that while leaders are outwardly interested in sustainability, they’re privately worried that the numbers don’t add up.

Megatrends also looks at renewable energy and says that today’s electric utilities are being tested in their ability to align with growing clean energy and decarbonisation mandates. The report cautions that without significant utility commitments to green energy, power-hungry industrial clients with growing sustainability goals may turn to renewables or distributed generation resources of their own.

Data’s risk-reward

The proliferation of smart devices that measure everything from consumption habits to asset management and system health continue to create new opportunities to collect and embrace actionable data. But to embrace data invites risk: with every new remote sensor, drone, iPad or other IoT tool deployed on our systems, the more vulnerable we become to hackers and network intrusion, Black & Veatch says.

When looking at data analytics of more than 500 water utility leaders recently surveyed, a combined 64% see their investment in digitalisation as positive in that it has helped enable improved asset performance.

“The power of predictive analytics is significant across power, water and telecommunications. For instance, industrial water plant managers can deploy advanced sensors able to reveal previously undetectable changes in infrastructure performance. These technologies, in tandem with predictive analytics, will help industrial water facilities anticipate equipment issues and failures, as well as build a roadmap to improved maintenance and programmatic equipment replacement,” Chastain-Howley et al write in their report in Meagtrends.

“But with these heightened opportunities comes heightened risk, and now organisations are facing a classic Catch-22,” the authors warn “With every new device added to a network, the more vulnerable that system becomes to outside intrusion. This new world of increased connectivity is introducing new vulnerabilities, and organisations must balance technological opportunity with safety and security.”

To combat this, Black & Veatch says that security professionals, regulators and the federal government are considering every option to stem the tide of cyber warfare. So it’s no surprise that an ongoing theme is that US utility leaders view cybersecurity processes, procedures, governance, technology and overall threat management to be a leading industry concern.

“Technology is changing the game rapidly, but the threat of cyber intrusion will only grow stronger,” Chastain-Howley et al state. “To navigate through these challenging times, organisations need to arrange their data analytics and cybersecurity strategies around digital intelligence designed to keep data safe, secure and protected.”

Strategic directions

“For years our Strategic Directions series has taken the pulse of the industries we serve and focused sharply on trends before they take hold, to keep clients a step ahead,” says Steve Edwards, Chief Executive Officer of Black & Veatch. “Against a backdrop of a changing climate, changing business models and changing customer expectation, this new report raises the stakes by examining the critical resource and infrastructure megatrends that will set the agenda for 2020 and beyond.”