Thames Tideway Tunnel
It’s remarkable that there are only two European projects in the recently released 2015 Strategic Top 100 Global Infrastructure Report, issued by CG-LA Infrastructure. These are not selected by size, complexity or spending, though most of them are big. The focus is on the relationship between governments, private investors and the public. Infrastructure is the internal framework for a country, allowing its economy and citizens to be productive and healthy. Infrastructure is a catalyst for progress and the compilers of this report believe that the right policies and projects create important opportunities for all.
The three major criteria for project selection are that it needs to be well on the way through the approvals process, be a clear priority for a country’s growth prospects and reinforce a country’s clear, long-term vision. This vision must define how the infrastructure investment will create well-being by growing the economy or improving public health or overall commutes.
It’s not hard to see why the Thames Tideway Tunnel (TTT) made the list this year. Like Crossrail, the other network currently moleing its way beneath the city, it will massively improve Londoners’ lives. By 2031, 8.6 million people will live in London. An estimated 600,000 new homes will be needed to absorb the growth. The sewerage network, already under severe pressure, needs an upgrade. That’s an important part of the vision.
The project will improve the public health, reputation and economy of London; not to mention the thousands of skilled jobs and hundreds of apprenticeships it will create.
The TTT is very much a project with legs: three joint ventures have been selected as preferred bidders for the east, central and west contracts. BMB JV, a joint venture of BAM Nuttall Ltd., Morgan Sindall PLC and Balfour Beatty Group Ltd. has been named for the west contract; FLO JV brings together Ferrovial Agroman UK Ltd. and Laing O’Rourke Construction for the central contract; and CVB JV, made up of Costain, Vinci Construction and Grands Projects Bachy Soletanche, has the east contract.
The engineering marvel that is the TTT is 25 kilometres long, descends 30 metres at its western end and 66 metres at its eastern and is over seven metres in diameter. The TTT will be the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken by the UK water industry. It will follow the route of the River Thames connecting to the combined sewer overflows located along the riverbanks. En route, it will travel underneath all other London infrastructure and through a variety of different ground environments.
It will be dug out by German-made, underground-conditioned, tunnel boring machines (TBMs). These extrude the excavated material, which is removed with a conveyor belt or, in wetter places, a slurry pipeline. As excavation advances, the tunnel is encased in a concrete shell using precast segments. The TBMs are introduced through a vertical shaft. Later, the existing overflow shafts will be connected to the great tunnel, ensuring that the sewage is no longer able to pollute the Thames.
The situation is worse now than before Sir Joseph Bazalgette constructed the interceptor sewers in the 1850s. These are still the backbone of London’s sewerage system. During severe storms, Bazalgette’s system was designed to overflow through discharge points on the riverbanks into the River Thames, rather than flooding streets and homes. When designed, this happened once or twice a year. Today it happens weekly, on average.
During its construction, between 2016 and 2023, the project will employ upward of 9,000 people at peak times. Given the continued national predominance of men over women in construction jobs, TTT’s CEO Andy Mitchell has set an interesting goal: achieve gender parity by 2023. While admitting that as a white, middle-aged male he is part of the problem, Mitchell exhibits an enlightened attitude towards the issue.
“This is not really a man’s world—we need women and we need diversity,” he says. “It’s a fact that a diverse workforce is a more productive one. If we are to deliver infrastructure that is of most use to society, we are more likely to achieve that with a team that is representative of that society.”
It will be an uphill task. Over a six-month period at the start of 2014, only 21 percent of job applicants were female.
“At the peak of construction, we’ll be creating more than 4,000 direct jobs and another 5,000 indirect. We need to make sure that when we advertise those roles we’re getting a far better rate of female applicants than we are now,” Mitchell admits. “Gender parity is a bold statement, and maybe it is too ambitious, but I don’t see the point in striving for anything less. If we achieve this goal, I believe it will change the face of construction for future generations.”
This policy may have been the deciding factor in securing the TTT a place in the Strategic Top 100.
Ofwat allows retailers to raise prices from April
Retailers can recover a portion of excess bad debt by temporarily increasing prices from April 2022, according to an Ofwat statement.
The regulator confirmed its view that levels of bad debt costs across the business retail market are exceeding 2% of non-household revenue, thereby allowing "a temporary increase" in the maximum prices. Adjustments to price caps will apply for a minimum of two years to reduce the step changes in price that customers might experience.
Measures introduced since March 2020 to contain the spread of Covid-19 could lead to retailers facing higher levels of customer bad debt. Retailers’ abilities to respond to this are expected to be constrained by Ofwat strengthening protections for non-household customers during Covid-19 and the presence of price caps.
In April last year, Ofwat committed to provide additional regulatory protection if bad debt costs across the market exceeded 2% of non-household revenue.
Georgina Mills, Business Retail Market Director at Ofwat said: “These decisions aim to protect the interests of non-household customers in the short and longer term, including from the risk of systemic Retailer failure as the business retail market continues to feel the impacts of COVID-19. By implementing market-wide adjustments to price caps, we aim to minimise any additional costs for customers in the shorter term by promoting efficiency and supporting competition.”
There are also three areas where Ofwat has not reached definitive conclusions and is seeking further evidence and views from stakeholders:
- Pooling excess bad debt costs – Ofwat proposes that the recovery of excess bad debt costs is pooled across all non-household customers, via a uniform uplift to price caps.
- Keeping open the option of not pursuing a true up – For example if outturn bad debt costs are not materially higher than the 2% threshold.
- Undertaking the true up – If a 'true up' is required, Ofwat has set out how it expects this to work in practice.
Further consultation on the proposed adjustments to REC price caps can be expected by December.
"While it’s great that regulators are helping the industry deal with bad debt in the wake of the pandemic, raising prices only treats the symptoms. Instead, water companies should head upstream, using customer data to identify and rectify the causes of bad debt, stop it at source and help prevent it from occurring in the first place," she said.
"While recouping costs is a must, water companies shouldn’t just rely on the regulator. Data can help companies segment customers, identify and assist customers that are struggling financially, avoiding penalising the entire customer in tackling the cause of the issue."
United Utilities picks up pipeline award
A race-against-time plumbing job to connect four huge water pipes into the large Haweswater Aqueduct in Cumbria saw United Utilities awarded Utility Project of the Year by Pipeline Industries Guild.
The Hallbank project, near Kendal, was completed within a tight eight-day deadline, in a storm and during the second COVID lockdown last November – and with three hours to spare. Principal construction manager John Dawson said the project helped boost the resilience of water supplies across the North West.
“I think what made us stand out was the scale, the use of future technology and the fact that we were really just one team, working collaboratively for a common goal," he said.
Camus Energy secures $16m funding
Camus Energy, which provides advanced grid management technology, has secured $16 million in a Series A round, led by Park West Asset Management and joined by Congruent Ventures, Wave Capital and other investors, including an investor-owned utility. Camus will leverage the operating capital to expand its grid management software platform to meet growing demand from utilities across North America.
As local utilities look to save money and increase their use of clean energy by tapping into low-cost and low-carbon local resources, Camus' grid management platform provides connectivity between the utility's operations team, its grid-connected equipment and customer devices.