Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), Reston, Va., releases an “Infrastructure Report Card” that rates the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure in 18 categories such as aviation, bridges, ports, rail, drinking water and more.
In the latest report, energy received a grade of C-.
According to the report, in a digital, connected world, Americans increasingly rely on readily available and uninterrupted electricity. Over the last four years, transmission and distribution reliability have increased and outages have declined slightly.
Annual spending on high-voltage transmission lines grew from $15.6 billion in 2012 to $21.9 billion in 2017, while annual spending on distribution “last mile” systems grew 54% over the last two decades.
“Utilities are taking proactive steps to strengthen the electric grid through resilience measures,” according to the report. “However, weather remains an increasing threat. Among 638 transmission outage events reported from 2014 to 2018, severe weather was cited as the predominant cause.”
In addition, distribution infrastructure struggles with reliability, with 92% of all outages occurring along these segments.
The report noted that while weather has always posed problems for reliability, climate change is exacerbating the frequency and intensity of these events. It quotes a U.S. Department of Energy report noting that power outages are costing the U.S. economy $28 billion to $169 billion annually.
“In the coming years, additional transmission and distribution infrastructure, smart planning, and improved reliability are needed to accommodate the changing energy landscape, as delivery becomes distributed, and as renewables grow,” stated the report.
In terms of funding, the reported noted that all three components of the electric grid (generation, transmission and distribution) have an investment gap, and in order to meet the latest state-driven Renewable Portfolio Standards, the gap is projected to grow to a cumulative $197 billion by 2029.
The report also offered six specific solutions to these problems. In summary:
Adopt a federal energy policy that provides clear direction.
Require the adoption of consensus-based standards.
Improve grid reliability by increasing the frequency and effectiveness of inspections.
Develop a national hardening plan.
Consider federal, state and local environmental reviews and permitting processes.
Design energy infrastructure that includes life-cycle cost analysis.