As I looked around, I could see workers with hard hats surrounded by construction equipment. They are building a pump house and a surge pool for storing water. Looking around and above I could get a good impression of the size and scale of Kaleshwaram lift irrigation project in Telangana. This is considered to be among the largest such projects of its kind in the world. Lift irrigation uses mechanical force to divert water for specific purposes unlike normal irrigation where the natural flow of water is redirected.
The Rs 80,000-crore Kaleshwaram project aims to bring water to 13 districts with 1.8 million acres of the state and impacting another 1.7 million acres in seven districts. Effectively, the entire state hopes to be water sufficient with this project. The project is a complex system of tunnels, canals and pump-houses to move water from rivers to irrigate parched lands.
To get a sense of the project, I did not have to travel to the site at all. Instead, I could view the work in progress through a headset which allowed interactive viewing using virtual reality and immersive images. On the images that showed the work under progress were also numbered dots. As I pointed towards the dots, a text box popped up with details of the latest developments and milestones achieved. A consortium of companies that include engineering and digital technology companies are executing the project.
Such immersive technology using augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) combined with a slew of other technologies is changing the way infrastructure projects are being implemented in the country. Lenders, partners, project managers can now keep a constant watch on the progress of large projects without visits to the site. Such projects also use embedded sensors for predicting the possibilities of breakdowns and failures. These alerts allow the engineers to fix the problem and reduce stoppage of work.
KPMG’s Enrich Survey 2018 indicates that power and utility companies are increasingly adopting digital- and sensor-based technologies for various objectives. About 46 per cent were in implementation stage of digital technologies while the rest were planning to deploy these. More than 50 per cent said that they are will use digital technologies for asset management, operations and process transformation.
A leading power utility leveraged an asset lifecycle management software could save 7-10 per cent of engineering time, 2 per cent in project cost and improved energy efficiency of about 50 per cent, says the survey.
Globally and in India, renewable energy is becoming an important part of the energy mix. When different sources of energy join an electricity grid, the scheduling and management become critical. While AR/VR can help in the construction of power and irrigation projects, the management of water and electricity requires advanced analytics based on artificial intelligence.
Ideally, the power and utility companies should get a suite of technologies that integrate their systems from design, construction to management of service. This might be easier for a new project but even existing companies are keen to adopt an end-to-end solution. Some though are preferring to roll out the adoption in phases, one specific function at a time.
As the pace of technology adoption picks up, there is hope that project management will also improve in India. Most public investment projects in the country are plagued by delays that lead to cost overruns of billions of rupees. Much of the delay is because of poor coordination between agencies. However, enhanced use of digital and embedded technologies can bring much-needed efficiencies in large public projects by power and utility companies.