Society Insights: December 2016 - Trains, Planes And Power

Crossrail
The IET Society Insights Blog summarises some of the key areas identified by Local Networks at their events that will have an impact on society now or in the future. This month we tackle the latest from the engineering community on trains, planes and power...

The GB electricity network: keeping the lights on
Berkshire Local Network
 
The UK’s electricity transmission system is facing one of the most challenging periods of change with the growth of renewable generations, climate change targets, emission reductions and investment required to upgrade the network. “Most key issues revolve around the 'energy trilemma' – the unenviable task of balancing security of supply and keeping the costs as low as possible, while mitigating environmental impact,” explains Marouf Pirouti, a Senior Power Systems Engineer at National Grid.
 
Experts such as Pirouti believe that looking forward the traditional power system will be upended, and utilities need to adjust their business models.
 
“Now, with the development of renewables, carbon regulations, energy storage and more active demand side management as well as the proliferation of distributed energy resources, changes are taking place faster than many expected. The electricity sector is no longer simply anticipating a revolution – depending on where you are; it is embroiled in one today,” he says.
 
You would be likely to think that changes in the electricity industry would have a top down impact on people’s lives, but the public has become increasingly conscious about using energy in a sustainable manner, with many proactively looking to adopt smart meters and smart appliances, install solar panels on roofs, use of electric cars and install energy storage systems.
 
“It is fair to say that they are already part of the wider electricity revolution which drives changes on how the network would be operated and managed to the security standard in both electricity distribution and transmission levels,” highlights Yuan Chen, a fellow Senior Power Systems Engineer at National Grid.
 
“There will be challenges but also exciting opportunities for both large and small consumers to help system operators manage and balance the system and essentially ‘keep the lights on’.”
 
Innovation in air traffic control
Swindon Local Network
 
Industry forecasts highlight that air traffic volumes will continue to grow, leaving the ‘unsung heroes’ at NATS tasked with keeping the UK’s skies safe whilst meeting the challenges of increasing capacity and reducing the environmental impact of air travel.
 
The current ‘invisible’ air traffic control infrastructure is based on old techniques and technology, likely to cost the UK economy billions if not addressed. To mitigate this, NATS has been implementing several new technologies.
 
These include Time Based Separation (TBS), which allows the landing rate at Heathrow to be maintained during strong headwinds, reducing delays and saving fuel. Then iFACTS, NATS’ trajectory prediction algorithm, helps air traffic controllers select the most efficient clearances for aircraft, improving safety as traffic grow and reducing controller workload.
 
NATS has dozens of projects under way at any point in time, working closely with suppliers and other air traffic agencies.
 
Over the North Atlantic we are currently working with airlines, regulators, industry partners, and satellite operators to improve the tracking of aircraft flying over the ocean,” highlights Gary Gibson, Head of Current Operational Systems at NATS.
 
“The introduction of real-time surveillance will allow us to improve flight safety, improve the predictability of service levels and more fuel-efficient flight profiles that make best use of the current and predicted position of the jet stream.
 
“On the ground, our next technology refresh will move us to a core strategic architecture based on private cloud technology. This will improve our resilience and cost efficiency whilst accelerating the deployment of initiatives like Free Route Airspace where aircraft are able to fly the shortest route between airports rather than being constrained by the traditional airways, which are like motorways in the sky.
 
“This new platform will transform our industry, accelerating the rate of development.”
 
Opening a new railway – a 21st Century challenge
Surrey Local Network
 
One of the most important rail projects in recent years, Crossrail will make a metamorphic difference to travel within the UK’s capital.
 
“London’s been growing hugely since the eighties and London Underground has been struggling for some time to cope. By building a railway that has the capacity to put a train with 1,700 people through the city’s central core at a rate of 30 trains an hour allows a transformational relief to London’s transport infrastructure,” says Charles Devereux, a former Crossrail Head of Rail Operations.
 
The challenges of bringing a new railway into service are many and yet Crossrail, has managed to stay within budget and deadlines and with minimal disruption to the city.

A colossal engineering undertaking, Devereux gives credit to the amazing professionals that overcame impressive challenges to build this railway.
 
“One TV documentary demonstrated that the tunnelling machines were having to thread their way just a matter of inches above operational Northern Line tunnels – that really is quite a feat. Unlike the rapidly built metros being built in China, all this has been done in a very established city where they’ve had to contend with numerous existing tunnels, sewers, electricity cables and other underground systems!”
 
Having worked in the sector since 1978, Devereux believes that as motorways become increasingly gridlocked the public is turning to rail as its first choice of transport. He believes, going forward, that technology will continue to improve the railway service for its growing number of users.
 
“A growth in intelligent train control systems will enable more people to travel by rail and more advanced signalling systems will help make the railway more reliable,” says Devereux. “I also think we’ll see far more intelligent maintenance systems deployed, with diagnostics that tell you when a set of points is going to fail rather than waiting for it to actually happen,” he adds.

If you are interested in any of these subjects then you should attend your IET Local Network's events. They are usually free to attend and you don't have to be a member of the IET - these talks are open to anyone with an interest in engineering and technology and how they will impact all our lives in the future. To find your Local Network please use our interactive map.
 
Posted by Steve Benveniste on Nov 24, 2016 2:03 PM Europe/London

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The IET benefits from having around 100 Local Networks around the world, run by volunteers, that aim to inform and inspire non-engineers to perhaps take an interest or potentially choose it as a future career.

IET Local Networks highlight future challenges for society and look at the engineering and technology solutions to solve them. Or to put it another way they are looking at how engineering and technology will effect real people’s lives in the future.

This makes IET Local Networks not just an important part of the engineering community but also wider society. And what's more, the 1500 events around the world they organise every year are mostly free to attend for anyone - not just members of the organisation.

The Society Insights Blog attempts to summarise some of the key challenges identified by Local Networks at their events that society will face in the future such as energy supply, transportation, water and food resources and waste management (to name just a few).
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