A technological change forecast is a document that lists possible technological changes that could affect a Council's (or any other organisation) asset management practices & asset life-cycle costs into the future, and documents the effects they could have.
Technological change forecasts typically cover subjects such as:
- The use of new technology
Possible Technological Changes
It is not easy to predict how various technologies will affect local government, but we are going to give it a go.
New Construction Methods & Systems
It is possible that 3D printing, automated construction techniques & modular building systems will have a significant impact on the construction of Council assets in the not-too-distant future. Given the long lives of some civil assets it is feasible that by the time they are due to be replaced, automated construction techniques will enable them to be replaced for considerably less than their current replacement cost.
- 3D Printing - 3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printing is becoming cheaper and more widely used. Smaller printers could be used for creating spare parts, and 3D models, and larger printers like D-Shape for constructing monuments, public art, and perhaps even functional buildings.
- Automated Construction Techniques
- Rapid Modular Construction
Advances in material science could see huge increases in the useful lives of many civil assets. Carbon nanotubes & graphene for example have far greater tensile strengths than steel, and structures built from them will be much lighter.
Energy Generation & Storage
Given the availability of sufficient cheap energy the extraction and transport of raw materials, and the fabrication of structural components from them becomes much cheaper. Obviously the cost of operating plant would also be cheaper, and the combination of all these factors should result in a considerable reduction in the cost of building bridges and other infrastructure assets.
Currently fossil fuels are the cheapest energy source available, and whilst this is true the cost of energy will continue to rise, as the deposits that are cheapest to exploit are used up.
It is likely that fossil fuels will remain the cheapest available energy source for some time yet, but there is reason to believe that in the reasonably short term other energy sources will become cheaper than fossil fuels, and this will result in a sustained drop in energy prices.
Possible fossil fuel replacements include;
- Photovoltaic Solar Power
- Fusion Reactors
- Thorium Molten Salt Reactors
- Low Energy Nuclear Reactors
The cost of photovoltaic solar power has been dropping consistently by about 7% a year for the past three decades. Should this tend continue solar power should become cheaper than coal before 2020.
Fusion power is the power generated by nuclear fusion processes. In fusion reactions two light atomic nuclei fuse together to form a heavier nucleus releasing a large amount of energy in the process.
Deuterium is one of the fuels that can be used in fusion reactors, and there is enough deuterium in sea water to satisfy humankind’s energy needs for literally millions of years.
There are a number of groups currently working on developing fusion power, including;
- Lawrenceville Plasma Physics
- Focus Fusion
- Helion Energy
The conventional wisdom that commercial fusion power is still decades away, but there are rumours of a secretive unnamed Australian company that believes it will be in a position to trial a fusion power plant in 2012.
Thorium Molten Salt Reactors
Thorium molten salt reactors are a cleaner, safer type of nuclear reactor gaining interest recently. Thorium is more common than Uranium, and significant deposits of thorium containing ore are located within Australia.
It is expected that Thorium based nuclear reactors will be considerably cheaper to build than existing types of nuclear reactors.
A number of companies including a Australian and Czech partnership are currently working on thorium molten salt reactors.
Biotech is one of the technological arenas that are advancing exponentially, and the concept of modifying micro-organisms to produce fuels isn’t that far-fetched.
Pen State University in the United State for example recently announced a microbiological process that can convert a combination of waste water and sea water into hydrogen.
Low Energy Nuclear Reactors (LENR)
There has been a lot of excitement recently about the Rossi Energy Catalyser. Rossi an Italian scientist claims to have developed a method of energy production, based on converting Nickel and Hydrogen to Copper. Whilst there is considerable skepticism about his claims, he has already built and sold a small number of reactors, and the technology should be either proven or disproven within a year or two. If the reactors perform as claimed, it could result in energy prices plummeting to 10% or less of what they are today, and trains that run for six months without refueling, and other wonders. Another company Defkalion is also claiming to have built a similar type of reactor.
An Australian Company – Star Scientific - is working on a different kind of LENR – Muon Catalysed Fusion. As with regular fusion MCF is deuterium based, so the is an almost limitless supply of fuel available.
Increased Collaboration & Knowledge Sharing via the Internet
- Collaboration - Increased collaboration & knowledge sharing via the internet has the potential to reduce overhead costs significantly by reducing the amount of duplication of effort between Councils.
- Nanotechnology - Nanotechnology is a potential game changer. Nanotechnology has the potential to create many new materials and devices with a vast range of applications, such as in medicine, electronics, biomaterials and energy production. As an example one proponent of nanotechnology predicts that in a few decades it will be possible to build solid diamond bricks from carbon dioxide extracted from the atmosphere.
- GPS Cameras - GPS Cameras will allow data to be collected more easily & efficiently.
Computers, Robotics & Artificial Intelligence
Computers have already changed the way Local Government does business over the last 20 years but there are more changes to come.
- Smart Car Data Collection - Google has recently demonstrated that self driving cars are feasible with today's technology. The Google cars use LIDAR, radar and video cameras to navigate, and it is possible that this technology could be used to simultaneously collect road condition and traffic volume information.
- Quadrotors/Drones - OK Quadrotors are mainly being mentioned because the video is so cool, but in the not too distant future they could conceivably be used to obtain condition information about hard to reach assets such as building roofs and maybe even stormwater pipes. Just imagine a quadrotor zipping down a side entry pit, and taking a quick trip up a pipe to see what is going on. The future is nearly here!
- Educational Video Libraries - Training costs may not be the biggest issue for Local Government, but the internet will almost certainly change how training is undertaken, especially in remote communities. The Khan Academy is a free online collection of over 2,100 videos on mathematics, history, finance, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and economics. The same concept could be used to satisfy many Local Government training needs.