The passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has set the stage for a veritable flood of investment in the nation’s critical infrastructure. Substantial amounts of money will become available to communities to reduce the carbon footprints of the transportation and energy sectors while expanding connectivity through the deployment of broadband. Broadband internet access will expand to reach countless underserved markets, and funding will help expand electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. These developments will have a follow-on effect in other sectors such as electrical transmission and distribution to strengthen and support power grid interconnections and support middle-mile fiber networks.
There’s a catch, though. These vital links — which will improve accessibility and quality of life across the nation — require more than merely constructing the infrastructure and flipping a switch. They will require labor and materials, which are already in short supply, to complete these projects. With the labor market reaching full employment and grappling with a constrained supply chain, the continued spending in this space will put more pressure on the market to meet these demands while managing costs and schedules. Getting the most from these new investments will require a delicate balancing act.
The bipartisan infrastructure act designates $65 billion to expand access to reliable high-speed internet through additional broadband infrastructure deployment. The legislation divides this funding into about a half-dozen buckets for qualifying infrastructure, mapping and adoption projects.
More than 30 million Americans live in areas lacking the broadband infrastructure to provide minimal acceptable data transfer speeds (defined as download upload speeds of 100/20 megabits per second). These grants are intended to create equality of connectivity across the country, reaching into unserved and underserved regions to build the backbone for equal access.
The implications of these investments are significant and go beyond bridging the digital divide. A better, more equitable internet experience could potentially change the calculus on where people live if their work can be performed remotely. When it’s as easy to videoconference from Alaska as it is from Manhattan, people may make dramatically different living choices.
Clean Energy Transmission
Another $65 billion stands to be distributed to upgrade the nation’s electrical transmission infrastructure. Thousands of miles of new, resilient power lines will need to be deployed to facilitate the accelerating growth of renewable and clean energy resources. Grant money also will fund new programs to support the development, demonstration and deployment of cutting-edge clean energy technologies as the country continues moving toward a net zero economy.
This expanded grid will need to be flexible and robust. Many existing wires will need to be replaced or upgraded to cope with the dynamic power flow that accompanies many green energy resources. One moment the power is flowing one way, the next moment the grid is acting as a collector bus for solar power. Operators need to be able to protect and control the network.
Telecommunications also will have a critical role to play. Smart sensors will be essential to protect reliability. If the grid is designed for one-way power flow and situations arise in which the power flow reverses, controls need rapid adjusting to maintain protection. If a fault occurs, it could be a bigger fault than expected — bigger than it would need to be. Reliable communications are critical to instantaneous fault detection and controls that protect service and minimize those impacts, isolating events before they can cascade into larger problems.
The infrastructure package also includes $7.5 billion to build out a nationwide network of EV charging stations. Some funding will go toward deploying chargers along highway corridors to facilitate long-distance travel; other dollars will support installing chargers within communities to provide convenient charging for daily life.
Expanding the charging infrastructure should help encourage EV adoption rates, but implementation will not be as simple as plopping a charger in one spot and moving on to the next. In terms of where people will charge their vehicles, this expansion will bring more intermittent power into more places. Not everyone will charge vehicles overnight — not everyone lives in a single detached home where an individual charger can be installed — and many might start looking to charge while they are at work. Put simply: it’s one thing to install a charger, but it’s quite another when one begins to look at upgrading a commercial building’s electrical infrastructure.
This scenario only gets amplified when one considers businesses with large fleets, such as delivery and trucking companies or ports, where there may be hundreds of vehicles to charge at once. Similarly, consider a warehouse that previously only needed power for things like lights and process equipment. That site had relatively low power density for a large-volume building. But if its parking lots starts filling with hundreds of EVs needing to charge, the energy demand calculus dramatically changes. These scenarios illustrate how the accelerating adoption of EVs will put high demand on electrical infrastructure expansion and upgrades, as well as the telecommunications to make it all work smoothly and reliably.
Building on Opportunity
The funding in the bipartisan infrastructure act represents significant investment in major improvements to critical electrical networks from coast to coast. Even with the funding deployed over the course of several years, the sheer amount of work to be done — in a business already seeing record spending — will be substantial, putting a premium on experienced partners who can offer integrated project delivery to provide efficient, cost-effective solutions for the power sector.
Utilities may have partnership or stand-alone business opportunities as broadband service is rolled out to underserved regions. Learn how a data-driven approach can give utilities needed insights.
This post is part of a series that dissects the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and addresses potential impacts of it on industries and infrastructure projects across the country. Learn more from these posts: