Does the U.S. Energy Infrastructure Deserve a D+?

Does the U.S. Energy Infrastructure Deserve a D+

In its latest Infrastructure Report Card issued in March, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) assigned the nation’s energy infrastructure, which includes generation, transmission and distribution, a grade of D+.

The report says making electricity available across the nation will be a greater challenge after 2020. Based on current investment trends, ASCE estimates the national electricity infrastructure gap will be $107 billion by 2020, or just more than $11 billion per year. The report predicts that by then, shortfalls in grid investments will account for nearly 90 percent of the investment gap with nearly $95 billion more needed to modernize the grid.

A council of ASCE members assigned this grade based on capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation, maintenance, public safety, resilience and innovation. Since 1998, the grades have averaged only Ds because of delayed maintenance and underinvestment.

The report recommends the U.S. immediately adopt a national energy policy, improve its transmission line approval process, prioritize risks to energy security and build out its transmission infrastructure. Yes, the U.S. needs a national energy policy, and our T&D infrastructure needs investment. I question, however, whether a D+ is fair.

I took this photo in Sao Paulo, where I attended a planning meeting for DistribuTECH Brasil. These power lines outside my hotel are typical of others that run throughout Brazil’s large urban areas. At a glance, it’s hard to imagine that anyone in Brazil has reliable electricity service, but I’ve visited Brazil five times, and I’ve never experienced an outage.

I’m not publishing this photo to cast a negative light on Brazil. I’ve met many people there who work for and manage electric utilities. They’re hard-working, well-educated people who understand their challenges. Their utilities are handicapped, however, because they must deal with up to 30 percent energy theft. In addition, Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, has ordered utilities to lower rates as much as 20 percent, creating more financial hardship for the utilities. I understand why much of Brazil’s electric grid has not been upgraded.

The U.S. infrastructure is far from perfect, but it could be much worse. The ASCE was not grading on the curve when it assigned the D+.

alt   Editor in chief
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