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Why did America's energy infrastructure earn a D+ grade?

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Last week, CNBC released their “Top States for Business 2018” study. As part of the study, analysts ranked all 50 U.S. states on categories that impact business competition, including infrastructure.

“Today every American family is losing about $3,400 a year in disposable income due to poor infrastructure,” said Greg DiLoreto, past president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). This includes auto repairs, gasoline burned while sitting in traffic, bottled water drank during outages and more.

While some states perform better than others, the overall picture of infrastructure in the United States is not pretty.

ASCE released an “Infrastructure Report Card” last year and our cumulative national grade was a D+. (And that’s not on a curve.)

The report card scored American infrastructure in 16 areas:


We earned a few passing grades – a B for our national railways, and a handful of Cs elsewhere. But in almost every area, our infrastructure scored in the D, or “poor” range, yielding a D+ average overall.

On a 4.0 GPA scale, that’s a 1.3. Most high schools, colleges and universities would put the United States on academic probation.

On energy, the U.S. earned a D+

How did that happen?

According to the ASCE, “Some parts of the U.S. electric grid predate the turn of the 20th century. Most T&D (transmission & distribution) lines were constructed in the 1950s and 1960s with a 50-year life expectancy, and were not originally engineered to meet today’s demand, nor severe weather events.”

A 50-year life expectancy means that systems built in 1968 should be retired this year (not to mention those built before that).

But when it comes to energy infrastructure, 50 years is an accurate life expectancy estimate for transmission lines and power plants only. High-voltage transformers (which transfer electrical energy from one circuit to another) may only last about 40 years, while power substations (which host all manner of transformers, switches, circuit breakers and other important electrical equipment) last up to 45 years at most.

If indeed these infrastructure assets were built in the 1950s and 60s, many of them are rapidly approaching the end of their expected lifespans.

What does it mean for your business?

If the U.S. energy grid isn’t brought up to speed soon, it could mean more blackouts and brownouts, a less dependable grid overall, and even changes to your electricity bill.An aging coal plant, for example, requires much more maintenance than a new one does, and consequently isn’t in use as much.

The ASCE report addressing American energy needs warns:

The lower 48 states’ power grid is at full capacity, with many lines operating well beyond their design. The resulting congestion raises concerns with distribution, reliability, and cost of service, producing constraints for delivering power from remote generation sites, specifically from renewable sources, to consumers. Often a single line cannot be taken out of service to perform maintenance as it will overload other interconnected lines in operation.

The state of infrastructure, along with shifts in energy source management and policy, already have real consequences. Your energy bill is changing, and could look very different in 10, or even five, years.

What you can do now 

Moving forward, concerned energy consumers should support policies that will result in efficient infrastructure.

Businesses owners and leaders should be aware of the risk of blackouts in their area and prepare ahead of time to avoid impacts to operations.

You can also turn to your energy supplier for support.

Some suppliers offer pricing structures for large businesses that help manage extra fees related to infrastructure upgrades. Many suppliers can also help you participate in a Demand Response program, which takes strain off the grid while your business benefits from an extra source of revenue. Some businesses may aim for grid-independence by adopting renewable generation technology and a smart energy strategy.

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Posted: July 19, 2018