Author: Paul MacDonald, CEng MIEI, executive engineer/training officer, Kildare County Council National Roads Office
Latin America is a key emerging region in the global economy based on its agricultural, industrial and chemical sectors. However, it has large infrastructure needs arising from the rapid urbanisation levels it currently experiences today. At the recent FIDIC (International Federation of Consulting Engineers) Annual Conference in Rio De Janeiro, Nestor Roa of the Inter-American Development Bank stated that by 2025, the region’s population will have increased to 650 million – with 85% of the population resident in cities and over 140 million vehicles operating on the highway network. This will create a need for more efficient energy and transport systems in the region’s mega-cities such as Sao Paulo and Mexico City, with their populations of over 20 million people.
The future infrastructure for Latin America will be designed around the concept of ‘intelligent infrastructure’. Intelligent infrastructure will be based on an emerging mix of decentralised renewable energy systems and traditional centralised power grid systems, in parallel with computer sensor systems for control of this energy supply, and urban traffic movements. The concept of intelligent control systems will ensure a higher quality of life, mobility and sustainability in large urban areas within Latin America.
The innovation and knowledge capability of key stakeholders such as engineers, policy makers and financiers will be critical in planning, designing and financing sustainable infrastructure with a maximum life cycle utility and minimal construction and operational risks. The large growth in the region’s cities through internal migration is indicative of the rising expectations of the region’s population, with the Brazilian economy now the seventh-largest economy in the world. Nevertheless, the legacy of regional under-development must be addressed through investment in housing, sanitation and transport infrastructure.
A key project in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, is the Olympic Village being developed for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. The hosting of the prestigious Olympic Games, following on from the World Cup in 2014, is indicative of the region’s growing capacity to deliver high quality stadium, transport and amenity infrastructure to meet the expectations of international participants.
At the FIDIC Conference 2014,Torsten Kleiss of the engineering company Siemens stated that cities like Rio can become high-quality urban spaces through the delivery of integrated computer-controlled energy and transport systems. The new distributed generation concept will see ‘virtual’ renewable energy systems operate in parallel with traditional centralised grids based on hydroelectric and fossil-fuel power stations. The virtual energy model is based on computerised renewable power systems where user demand is monitored. The demand is then matched to the predicted energy supply based on the daily monitoring of wind and solar weather patterns which will determine the renewable power output in advance.
In parallel with distributed generation, intelligent transport systems such as intermodal transport hubs linking private and public transport, driverless trains with greater passenger capacity and real time information systems will control traffic and address congestion problems in cities. Engineers can play a key role as technical innovators in delivering efficient energy and transport systems in Latin America, where 50% of city municipalities are operating without resource sustainability plans.