Engineers Warn Against Inadequate Energy Investment

The American Society of Civil Engineer's latest report says a failure to invest in energy infrastructure could have huge economic consequences for the country.
by | April 30, 2012

If the country doesn't start investing more money in its energy infrastructure, Americans could start suffering from more frequent blackouts, and the economy could take a sizable hit, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says in a new report.

From 2001 to 2010, spending on energy infrastructure -- including generating, transmitting, and distributing power -- averaged about $63 billion annually, according to ASCE. Over the course of the decade, that spending gradually increased. But the organization says the country still isn't investing enough in energy infrastructure, and to close the gap, it will need to spend another $11 billion annually through 2020 in order to avoid costly interruptions and blackouts caused by aging equipment and bottlenecks.

The good news, according to ASCE, is that the cost is "not insurmountable."

ASCE has been trying to make its case for infrastructure investment to the public by putting it in concrete terms everyday residents can appreciate: how it affects their own pocketbooks.

The organization argues that as demand for energy increases, the power system won't be able to keep up if the country doesn't increase its investment.

That means more equipment failures, voltage surges, and other irregularities that could cause unreliable electricity for Americans. The costs associated with service interruptions -- namely, lost production by businesses -- are passed along into the economy at large. Other expenses caused by power interruptions include equipment damaged by voltage spikes and an increasing dependence on generators. Meanwhile, households would likely see their own electrical bills rise.

All total, ASCE says, the cumulative loss of GDP through 2020 would be $496 billion if investment isn't increased, and there could be 529,000 fewer jobs. By 2040, the cumulative GDP loss would be $1.95 trillion by 2040.

(It's worth noting that some critics have questioned ASCE'S historically dire warnings about the state of the country's infrastructure, arguing that its members will get more money and more work if the country spends more on infrastructure.)

"For the entire system to function, generation facilities need to meet load demand, transmission lines must be able to transport electricity from generation plants to local distribution equipment, and the decentralized distribution networks must be kept in good repair to ensure reliable final delivery," ASCE write in its report. Shortfalls in any of those areas could pose threats.

The most crucial areas of investment are transmission (the long-distance lines that connect power generators to populations centers) and distribution (the local systems that connect power to individual homes and businesses). The actual power-generating facilities are in less trouble, according to ASCE.

 

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