UCL Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering


Infrastructure Systems Institute

UCL’s Infrastructure Systems Institute uses multidisciplinary approaches to investigate and recommend change to infrastructure systems, which provide critical services e.g. power and clean water.

A shot of a busy city transport network at night.

Happy new year!  Unlike no other, our expectations for 2021 are associated with the greatest uncertainty we have ever had to manage. Covid, Brexit, Net Zero reign high amidst extant challenges. Yet we have made significant progress and in 2020 demonstrated the power of digital to not only effectively manage communications but also to gain access to better information and insight.  Sadly, we have lost many of the social interactions, in particular the casual collisions of intellectual minds which spur innovative ingenuity and stimulate debate and consensus building. Also, many of us have lost access to facilities enabling us to experiment and discover from controlled samples. So we must rely even more so on digital to help us connect to people, organisations and information that is of interest to us. 

The ISI has contributed in multiple ways towards this digital ambition and the staff and students in the institute have achieved a step change in influencing thinking toward complexity understanding of infrastructure systems. Not least is our work on digital twins and infrastructure ontologies which is helping with our insights on anticipation and responsiveness in infrastructure systems – building on our past work in resilience. Looking forward to 2021 the ISI is involved in exciting projects on circular economy and eco-design in infrastructure, on establishing a national institute for infrastructure and cities, and transformation of infrastructure toward net zero. In parallel we are developing a very exciting masters’ programme in Infrastructure Systems for infrastructure operators and agencies, and engineers in government, institutes, and the private sector, wanting a whole systems’ understanding of our critical infrastructure. We are embracing the emerging new world enabled by digital and the new complexities that have potential for environmental and societal good.


The Infrastructure Systems Institute (ISI) is research-centric, globally collaborative and connected to government departments, especially the National Infrastructure Commission, and industry. Our work is organized into research projects and our primary outputs are peer-reviewed academic articles, supported by practitioner reports and papers, with analyses and recommendations.

Our mission is to provide better understanding of how infrastructure enables both service providers (such as power and water) and users (such as manufacturers and residential homes) to innovate to provide better critical services. Infrastructure is a complex network of systems with intra- and inter-dependencies, feedbacks, and non-linearities, which demand a focus on resilience and sustainability, given the uncertainties of broad climate and technological change trajectories. Such critical services need to innovate to meet society’s needs, whilst protecting against hazards and minimizing environmental harm.

Our methods are mostly computational and we have a preference for agent-based and object- oriented models, but also have expertise in developing multi-scale and trans-dimensional first-principles models. However, we embrace qualitative data and generally follow mixed methods approaches which require us to work with many disciplines, integrating understanding across nexuses and systems of systems.

We are part of the UK Data Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure (DAFNI) and the UK Collaboratorium for Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC). These projects are spearheading enabling investments which will allow us to better understand and adapt infrastructure systems to deliver critical services that meet the needs of society, the economy and the environment.  

The Head of The Infrastructure Systems Institute is Prof Liz Varga.


Please note, all links on this page may lead to external sites.




Engineering resilience in infrastructure systems:

  • Organising engineered systems to mitigate impact and speed the recovery of disruptions, using appropriate methods, techniques, and perspectives.

Sustainable innovation in integrated infrastructure services:

  • Exploiting digitalization, autonomous and communication/connection technologies, to improve decision making across infrastructure systems.

Policy evaluation and assessment in infrastructure systems:

  • Explaining the role of regulation, standards and policy in past, current and future infrastructure service provision. 

Decarbonisation and energy efficiency including:

  • Distributed energy resources and innovation toward low carbon electricity;
  • Avoidance and use of waste, including heat recovery;
  • Thermal energy transition in the built environment;
  • Industrial energy efficiency and biomass, hydrogen, and oxygen utilisation;
  • Energy efficiency in agro-product processing.




Techno-economic Feasibility of Net-Zero Emission Solutions for Metal Heating


Aggregators as digital Intermediaries in Local Electricity markets: Blockchain for renewable energy.


Complexity methods for ex-post policy evaluation in energy, environment and food.


Data Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure.


Optimising Energy Management in Industry.


Highways England/Transport Research Labs Connected and Autonomous Plant.

Past research projects 
  • Stepping Up: ABM for innovation at the water, energy and food nexus.
  • ENCORE: Complex systems methods for engineering resilience.
  • Cryohub: Evaluation of cryogenic storage for grid feed-in at refrigeration firms.
  • ICIF: Resilience in integrated infrastructure systems.
  • STDE: System Transition to Digital Energy. 
  • EU-Innovate: Sustainable Lifestyles 2.0: End-user integration, innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • TUCP: Transforming Utilities Conversion Points.
  • All-in-One: Feasibility analysis of supplying all services through one Utility Product.
  • MUSCos: Land of the multi-utility service companies.
  • ABIL: Transport systems and services: informed logistics/agent-based intelligent logistics.
  • CASCADE: Complex Adaptive Systems, Cognitive Agents and Distributed Energy: a complexity science-based investigation into the smart grid concept.

ISI activity 

  • National Infrastructure Commission
  • Department for Energy and Industrial Strategy; National Grid
  • Department for Transport; Highways England
  • Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs; Environment Agency; Food Standards Agency
  • Various industrial clients and engineering, energy, transport, telecoms, water, and waste organisations.
Seminars/keynote talks
  • Varga, L (2019), Aggregators: a new regime for mobilisation of distributed energy resources, 3rd International Conference on Energy, Ecology and Environment (ICEEE2019)/International Conference on Electric and Intelligent Vehicles (ICEIV2019), 23-26 Jul, Stavanger, Norway.
  • Varga, L (2019), Complex systems models: better, faster and more inclusive, but is it enough for decision making? Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the built environment, 2 -3 July, EPICentre, UCL. 
  • Varga, L (2019), Thinking the Worst: complex, cascading and extreme disasters, 9th annual conference Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, UCL, 19 June.  Varga, L (2019), DAFNI Network Plus, Data Analytics Facility for National Infrastructure, The Royal Society, 10-11 June.
  • Varga, L (2019), The rise of Distributed Energy Resources, 4th International Scholars ‘Xiangjiang Forum’, Central South University, Changsha, China, 25 May.
  • Varga, L (2019), Improvement of city infrastructure with sustainable urban management: a complexity workshop on city water systems, Royal Geographic Society Postgraduate forum midterm conference 2019, 24-26 April, Manchester Metropolitan University.
  • Varga, L (2019), Abstracting emergence in living beings to demonstrate two types of weak emergence using simple models, Second International TRANSIT workshop on Cross-disciplinary Research (TWCR 2019), Cross-disciplinary Centre for Systems Analysis and the University of York, 27-28 March, York.
Conferences with papers


Taught programmes 

We run the taught Master’s module Systems, Society and Sustainability (CEGE0020)
The following Master’s programmes fall within the scope of our research:

Doctoral research 

We are looking for new doctoral students in all of our research themes.
The following doctoral topics and students were supervised by our team and our collaborators:

  • Thermal energy transition in the built environment: Ruiqiu Wang
  • Performance evaluation of geopolymer composite encapsulated phase change material and its application in building walls: Yansong Wang
  • A scale independent but context sensitive model of infrastructure for anticipation and self-healing through inter-dependencies: Lauren McMillan
  • A master framework for resilience of infrastructure through anticipatory and self-healing mechanisms: Zahra Mahabadi
  • Decision-making in telecoms regulation in infrastructure sharing: Yerlan Durmagambetov.
  • Adaptive tension, self-organization and emergence: complex system perspective of supply chain disruptions: Anurag Tewari.
  • Implications of Water Framework Directive on potable water treatment: Dr Tom Dolan.
  • Disruptions and disturbances in the supply network: Phil Greening.
  • Resilience, safety and technology innovation in interdependent infrastructure systems: Neda Naghshabandi.
  • Information sharing in perishable product supply chains: Luluk Lusiantoro.
  • Analysing the combined effect of EV and PV adoption on the distribution networks: Ali Alderete.    


ISI publications

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