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A new age of infrastructure development is coming

There is no energy transition without transmission.

And there is no timely transmission without a paradigm shift in how we plan and design our infrastructure.

Demand for energy and utility infrastructure is growing all the time as the world strives for decarbonisation and continues on the path towards achieving net-zero emissions - electricity grids alone are projected to double in size to enable the connection of critical renewable energy supplies and ensure resilience across the network. On the other hand, water utilities are racing to move water to locations where climate change is starting to cause shortages during the summer months.

There is no doubt that we have fallen behind in developing new infrastructure.

We have seen situations where water usage is limited during droughts. We’re also already paying billions of dollars to renewable energy generators to switch off their power plants because the electricity grids are overloaded.

Developing a new transmission line in a developed country like the UK, Sweden, or the US can take as long as 14 years from the initial needs case to actually moving the energy from point A to point B. Two-thirds of that time tends to go towards planning, designing and permitting activities before construction can even start.

But simultaneously, we can’t just go and build that infrastructure anywhere the same way it used to be done decades ago - we need to be mindful of impacts on biodiversity, society and even of the carbon embodied in the equipment itself.

Utilities that used to operate as asset owners for the past 30 to 50 years now need to become developers. That means changing the direction of established organisations and creating dedicated teams that focus on infrastructure development. For example, National Grid needs to develop five times more projects in the next seven years than it did in the past 30 years. To deal with this challenge, they created a dedicated business unit focused solely on the development of Strategic Infrastructure.

But with not enough people in the industry and not enough time, we need a paradigm shift in how things are done.

Governments and developers share this sentiment

The recent UK Electricity Networks Commissioner’s report advocates for automated route design processes and clear, expert-guided design principles. At the same time, the US Government has just released over $300m in funding for states to improve the efficiency of transmission planning.

With so much of the timeline-extending complexity of the infrastructure planning process stemming from the need for developers to balance multiple technical and regulatory considerations as well as the perspectives and priorities of different stakeholders, an automated approach supported by professional oversight has the potential to revolutionise the planning and implementation of new energy networks. We've long championed the benefits of automation, and our tool, Optioneer, stands as a testament to the power of this approach.

Over the last five years, Optioneer has been used by more than 30 developers to assess over 40,000 kilometres of linear assets in the UK, the USA, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and 11 other countries.

Those teams leveraged Optioneer to achieve in eight weeks what they used to do in 12 months for high voltage transmission line projects; to negotiate better grid connections for offshore wind farms; to engage with local communities and explore locally suggested alternatives for medium voltage overhead transmission lines; to reduce lifecycle costs of a water transfer system; to select routes with lower biodiversity impact for hydrogen pipelines.

As we announce the successful close of our $10 million Series A funding round this week, we are committing to expanding our technology to more project stages, new regions, and new asset types.

To maintain the high pace of project planning, design and permitting, developers need to be agile and proactive. They need to be able to react quickly to changes in the environment and project conditions, proactively engage with stakeholders and prepare robust planning applications.

We are expanding the Optioneer technology beyond routing only to cover network planning for utilities in the very early conceptual stages and to help them manage a full portfolio of projects all in one place. Our customers are also already starting to gain access to functionalities that support compliance activities, such as biodiversity assessments, and help to tell the story of how the project was developed over time to bring stakeholders on board.

Earlier this year, we launched support for continental Europe, and we will soon start recruiting local staff based in the USA.

It’s no secret that times have been tough for the tech industry. But venture capital investors are not only recognising the urgency of transforming the infrastructure sector and the potential of new technologies, but they are also hungry to support this change. Leading this round were Henri Tilloy and the team at Singular, who – along with existing investors Credo, Playfair, Techstart Ventures, and a group of angels - share our vision for what lies ahead. The energy transition presents a unique challenge that demands a departure from traditional practices.

We’re incredibly excited to work with the developers to give them a better way to plan their projects - one that is agile, automates the repetitive elements and allows them to focus on creatively solving the really tough problems with data that was never available before.

Grzegorz Marecki, CEO, and the team at Continuum Industries

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