CG/LA Infrastructure's InfraBlog
Imagine buying the latest computer with access to all the state-of-the-art games and programs — and then trying to access the Internet through a rotary phone. Forcing the latest technology to rely on outdated delivery systems doesn’t make sense in telecommunications, and it doesn’t make sense in energy either. Yet that is what America would essentially be trying to do if we don’t invest in our basic energy infrastructure.
Even as the national debate on carbon emissions rages on, our nation is undergoing a boom in clean energy innovation that is helping to reshape America’s energy future. President Obama seized on this progress in his State of the Union address and made a strong case for more investment in cleaner energy sources and better efficiency, from natural gas and renewables to smarter electric grids.
But if we are serious about speeding the transition to more sustainable technologies, as the president called for, we also need to get serious about making new investments in the nation’s basic energy infrastructure, which is still the backbone of our energy economy. It will do America little good to be the world leader in energy innovation if the other core components of the grid are not similarly advanced enough or reliable enough to get the power to the end user.
Yet the reality is that, a lot like our interstate highway system, vast portions of our power and natural gas networks were built in the post-World War II era. After half a century, critical parts of the system are reaching the limits of what they were designed to do. These limitations threaten to hold back progress toward our longer-term energy sustainability and security goals.
To his credit, the president touched on this challenge when he said America’s energy sector is part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of work. But while age is a crucial factor, it’s not the only reason we need to invest.
Integrating new technologies and new energy sources into our existing grid is not a simple matter of “plug and play.” Introducing technologies like distributed generation and electric cars on a large scale brings with it real-world engineering and operating challenges. Many of these can’t be addressed without upgrading or strengthening the supporting infrastructure…