Improving Quality of Life: Complex System of Utilities Infrastructure Being Developed at SUSU

As part of the project-based education implemented at SUSU in September 2018, a project aiming at creating a programme for the complex development of utilities infrastructure has been launched at the Department of Town Planning, Engineering Networks, and Systems.

Dmitriy Ivanov, head of the project, Candidate of Sciences (Engineering), and Associate Professor of the Department of Town Planning, Engineering Networks, and Systems spoke to us about how to improve the quality of utilities while maintaining their affordability; improve the ecological situation; ensure comfort and safety of living; protect citizens from unjustified increases for public utilities fees; and increase the efficiency of management companies.

– How was this idea formed?

– Mass development of municipalities began on a national scale in 2013-2014 after the approval of several normative and legal documents. In this case, the term “municipalities” is a general concept referring both to large cities of federal importance (such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg) and to tiny settlements. They must all have complex development programmes.

A complex development programme unites and creates prerequisites for efficient operation of all utilities systems: gas supply, water supply and wastewater disposal, heating, power supply, processing and disposal of solid waste. All these systems must be unified and synchronised within a complex development programme.

The programme’s ultimate goal is to support the quality development of utilities systems while minimising fee increases, so that the population doesn’t end up in a financial vice. The project is centred around the balanced development and modernisation of all utilities systems and respecting the interests of population and utilities providers. All these provisions are regulated by federal law. Many local authorities approach this issue formally. In terms of real efficiency, it is extremely difficult to keep track of the quality with which these programmes are being fulfilled.

No university in the South Ural region has studied the complex development of utilities from a scientific point of view before. This is a very important topic, the need for its development is quite high – this will improve the quality of operations in municipalities across Russia. This is why I made a proposal to develop this topic in the project-based education format.

– What are the tasks you face in fulfilling of this project?

– The main task is to increase the efficiency of municipal utilities systems. We are planning on developing mechanisms which stimulate the implementation of modern technologies in housing utilities operations. Our plans also include ensuring the financial recovery of organisations within the housing utilities sector and attracting investors to municipal engineering systems. Besides what I mentioned before, we are also trying to increase public awareness and improve the quality of operation for utilities while reducing the speed at which fees are increasing. 

– Who of the students are involved in this project?

The main project staff is made up of five Master’s students of the Construction (08.04.01) programme. Ideally, the project should include a pool of Master’s students including specialists in energy supply, water supply, sanitation, and heating, as well as students of economics and ecology and specialists in the processing of household waste. From the beginning, we planned on the project becoming interfaculty and interdisciplinary. However, since the project-based education programme is still a pilot programme, we decided to focus our strengths on our Department this time. Other specialists will be brought in within qualification projects. In the future, we are still planning on bringing the project to an interdisciplinary level.

– Who are the customers for your project?

– At the current stage we are working with two municipalities: the city of Kemerovo and Ozersk Urban District. Part of the works are related to OJSC Chelyabtyazhmashproekt.

– Please tell us about your successes and plans for the near future…

– We have already begun work by gathering initial data: information available at the municipalities for all utility systems. Next, our task is to properly analyse the source documentation, determine any shortcomings, and most importantly – synchronise the development of all utility systems within municipal infrastructures by making the necessary adjustments.

For example, imagine that there are plans to open a shopping mall in the city. Utilities companies plan on taking into account new connections to heating and gas supply systems, but let’s say that they have not taken water supply into account. They have not accounted for it either in the balance sheet, or in the capacity of water supply sources, and they have not factored in solid waste disposal.

Students who are involved in this programme will need to identify shortcomings in the long-term development plans for utilities infrastructure, give recommendations to fix these shortcomings, and calculate exactly how these needs should be incorporated into the future plans of the municipalities.

– This programme is designed for a 15-year period. Why is that?

– The key theme of our project is long-term planning. When creating a programme of possible repairs and modernisation of equipment, we must realise that we are not only solving the today’s problems. We must foresee what will happen on the planning horizon. For example, in five years, a new microregion will be built near the location of something we are building now. We need to plan for the expected increase in utilities capacity now.

Federal funds should be spent efficiently. When replacing worn-out equipment in utility systems, we must consider that in a few years, it’s possible that this equipment will need to be totally modernized, and capacity increased. Money for this modernisation will be spent indirectly from all levels of the budget. If federal funds are not involved in a company’s financing, then it’s very likely that this will affect utilities fees. The public should not have to pay twice for the modernisation of networks and equipment. This is why competent, gradual modernisation of all systems is necessary to use the existing finances efficiently. We take such aspects into account in our project.

– Does the Department have experience in fulfilling similar projects? Or is this a totally new project being fulfilled within the project-based education format?

– Fundamentally, our developments match the Department’s main fields of research, but this project is the first to be anchored in the law, and it can be called innovative.

Within this project, students complete practical training, which allows them to comprehensively master all issues related to the operation and construction of utilities networks and systems. This means that future specialists will have a deep understanding not just of engineering, but also of economics, financial planning, and other disciplines. Within an applied project, these elements are inseparable. Students learn about the operations of businesses and municipalities, which gives them a good level of practical knowledge.

The depth of their study of the operation of each utility system allows our Master’s students to become high-level specialists.

– One of the main requirements for the project-based approach is joint publications from the project’s participants in the Scopus and WoS databases. Are you planning on publishing papers about this project soon?

– From experience, I can say that we are often dealing with a clear lack of source data, and at times we have to apply scientific methods of evaluating the documentation presented to us. Since all the papers related to Master’s dissertations require a scientific component, there are many promising topics in the materials of the project for the complex development of municipal utilities infrastructure that we wish to focus on in terms of their applied scientific value.

Methodological approaches to developing programmes for the complex development of utilities infrastructure with insufficient data are very important. This is an objective reality which exists in practically all municipalities today. If we obtain real, positive results within this project, we will absolutely publish our materials in editions that are in the Scopus and Web of Science international databases.

We are planning on forming a package of documents for municipalities into a final Programme for the Complex Development of Utilities Infrastructure, which will comply with the standards set in the Russian law. Each Master’s student will defend their own section of the final paper in accordance with the general theme of the project.

As part of the final project, students from the Department of Economic Security will also be brought in to evaluate the economic effect, the consequences on fees for the public, and the affordability of utilities. In addition to the ongoing work with municipalities and regional authorities, the project also involves expert evaluation of our results on the optimisation and development of all utilities systems.

Azaliya Sharafutdinova, Yuliya Rudneva
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