The approval of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 has presented a unique opportunity to update the nation’s infrastructure. This is especially important as many of these systems are currently in a state of disrepair. The power grids that provide electricity to households across America are in urgent need of repair. The costs associated with energy consumption continue to rise, and public safety remains a top concern for many mayors.
In 2023, how can we best utilize these funds to enhance the resilience of the grid, conserve energy, and improve public safety? Looking back on the previous year may provide valuable insights and guidance.
The country’s infrastructure is aging, and the rising energy demands and extreme weather events have further strained the grid. While electric vehicles, rooftop solar, and digital technologies continue to gain popularity, much of the power grid is outdated. This was compounded by the record-setting heat waves and droughts of the past summer, leading to a surge in energy consumption across the nation. The situation is expected to worsen due to global warming, putting the US on the verge of an energy crisis.
However, the recent infrastructure investment presents a unique opportunity to modernize the grid. The Department of Energy has launched two grant programs in the last six months aimed at enhancing and modernizing the country’s power grids. These programs have unlocked more than $15 billion in funds to create the power systems of the future.
We have an opportunity in 2023 to capitalize on this momentum and upgrade our power grids to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This requires investing in the development and implementation of new technologies to improve grid visibility for predicting and detecting outages while ensuring reliable service. It also means investing in technologies that can enhance the protection of substations from an increase in malicious activity, such as those seen in North Carolina and Washington. Currently, most utilities have a reactive approach to grid management and rely on outdated methods to identify grid failures and potential issues. By making these changes in 2023, we can enhance the reliability of energy delivery and streamline power restoration efforts after natural disasters
In 2022, energy consumption and costs rose sharply as the global economy rebounded from the pandemic, and geopolitical tensions caused energy prices to soar. In the United States, energy prices surged by an astonishing 15.8% last year, with gas prices reaching an unprecedented high of $5 per gallon in June.
Given these circumstances, investing in clean and sustainable energy alternatives is more critical than ever, particularly for cities struggling to power their vital infrastructure. While solutions such as solar panels are becoming more accessible, we must continue to seek ways to reduce energy consumption.
One simple step forward is to switch from traditional bulbs to LED lights. LED lights are widely available and easy to install, using up to 90% less energy and lasting up to 25 times longer than conventional bulbs. This is why nearly half of our country’s cities are already using LEDs. In the coming year, we can leverage public funding to complete the transition to LED streetlights, and add intelligence to dim and schedule lights, providing cities with a way to cut their biggest source of energy costs.
While homicides in major American cities have decreased recently, violent crime remains high compared to pre-pandemic levels, with a 4.2% increase in the first half of 2022. This rise in crime has been compounded by the challenges that police departments face in recruiting and retaining officers in a tight labor market, as well as increasing distrust of law enforcement.
As departments turn to technology to supplement their capabilities, they have an opportunity to accelerate the deployment of safety cameras by utilizing the more than 40 million streetlights that line our country’s roads. Data suggests that improving the level and quality of light in high-crime areas can reduce violent incidents. Additionally, increasing the duration of lighting and using streetlights to host other technologies such as sensors and cameras can augment police forces, reduce investigation costs, increase case closures, and ideally act as a deterrent for future crime.
REASON TO BE OPTIMISTIC
The desire and capacity to make substantial infrastructure advancements have never been higher. We have witnessed the passing of significant legislation, and funding is being distributed to cities and utilities. This is an encouraging development. However, the challenge we face is to accelerate progress. Public programs frequently progress at a sluggish pace. This is not the time to proceed leisurely. Infrastructure technology has already undergone and will continue to undergo innovation. Now is the moment to discover methods of swiftly commencing pilot projects and devising a plan for easy scaling. We have the chance to provide a much more durable and effective national infrastructure in 2023.