Preparing Utility Companies for an Increase in Infrastructure Construction Projects
by Bob Stern | October 6, 2022
Utility companies across the U.S. are bracing themselves for, or are in the midst of, an infrastructure project surge arriving with funding infusion complements of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
- Weather-related disaster events cost the U.S. approximately $1 billion each year in infrastructure repair.
- Power outages can rack up a $70 billion annual bill, according to a Department of Energy study, and an aging power infrastructure resulting in unwanted power failures.
- A lack of broadband availability leaves rural communities, or about 30 million Americans, with no internet service or inadequate internet speeds.
- Lead service pipelines and lack of water infrastructure results in about 400,000 schools and 10 million Americans without clean (or safe) water.
- Cybersecurity vulnerability of U.S. infrastructure is a national threat to every household and business.
With this influx of project funding for utility infrastructure also comes an increase in the burden of responsibility for utility departments. Utility companies will be expected to better manage their current personnel and capital resources, and provide a higher level of transparency for infrastructure funding.
More Utility Construction Projects, Same Resources
Expecting an increase in infrastructure construction projects, utility companies need a strategy for the expansion of their resources and maximizing their current personnel. Hiring well and hiring early, planning for materials and labor shortages, and using funding from the infrastructure law or the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to prioritize digital transformation are all strategies employed by utility companies to stay ahead of project demands.
By updating their project management systems to a cloud-based project management system such as e-Builder, utility companies can gain greater efficiency in their projects, offer transparency in the stewardship of funding, easily comply with regulatory reporting requirements and provide statistics on job creation and socioeconomic impact to funding authorities.
Uninterrupted Power Through Grid Resilience
Grid resilience is the ability to provide critical power and electricity to essential systems during an outage or potential outage. Proper power resiliency also provides economic benefits - reducing power bills and potentially generating power with renewable energy to produce revenue.
Grid resilience is an aspect of the infrastructure law that includes several buckets of funding:
- $50 billion is dedicated to projects that make the U.S. infrastructure more resilient against cyber attacks and natural disasters, such as flooding, droughts, and wildfires.
- The law provides about $65 billion as an investment into clean energy transmission. Thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines will upgrade the U.S. power infrastructure and allow for the expansion and implementation of renewable energy.
Utility companies will need to partner with experts in power resiliency, renewable energy, and cybersecurity. Trimble possesses technology that can identify weaknesses in cybersecurity or system infrastructure, starting with a risk assessment.
Internet for Everyone Through Utility Infrastructure Funding
Local governments and internet utility companies can apply for infrastructure project funding to expand fiber networks into rural and underserved areas. Building upon the funding provided in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), local governments and utilities are being incentivized to provide affordable broadband internet service in rural areas.
Utility companies need to be prepared with a plan to go after this funding and implement services in rural areas.
Clean Water in Every Community & Removal of Lead Pipelines
The Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act provides a $55 billion investment to remove and replace lead pipelines and PFAS. The idea of grid resiliency can also be applied to water and wastewater infrastructure - the need to identify vulnerabilities in pipelines and water systems and the technology to avoid cybersecurity threats are infrastructure related costs utility companies will need to expect.
Based on his experience during the Newark Water and Sewer Utilities lead pipeline replacement project, Armrou Atassi at CDM Smith says, “The three things I would recommend to any utility listening today: get your inventory, put together your replacement plan, and start figuring out your community outreach strategy.”
Key Topics Covered: infrastructure, Utilities