In its 2013 report on the state of U.S. infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives the energy sector a grade just shy of failure. In its previous report, in 2009, the ASCE also gave energy a D+.

The ASCE 2013 Report Card depicts the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure in the familiar form of a school report card—assigning letter grades that are based on physical condition and needed fiscal investments for improvement. Each category was evaluated on the basis of capacity, condition, funding, future need, operation and maintenance, public safety, and resilience.

In its summary of the energy sector, the current report says, “America relies on an aging electrical grid and pipeline distribution systems, some of which originated in the 1880s. Investment in power transmission has increased since 2005, but ongoing permitting issues, weather events, and limited maintenance have contributed to an increasing number of failures and power interruptions. While demand for electricity has remained level, the availability of energy in the form of electricity, natural gas, and oil will become a greater challenge after 2020 as the population increases. Although about 17,000 miles of additional high-voltage transmission lines and significant oil and gas pipelines are planned over the next five years, permitting and siting issues threaten their completion.”

As in the previous report, the transmission system is identified as the area of greatest concern. Congestion has been rising over the past five years, the report says, “which raises concerns with distribution, reliability and cost of service. Preliminary findings of the 2012 National Electric Congestion Study indicate that critical areas of congestion still exist in the Northeast and in southern California.” The most critical consequence of such congestion is “system-wide failures and unplanned outages,” for which the public has low tolerance, even when outages are caused by extreme weather events. Aside from inconvenience, “The average cost of a one-hour power outage is just over $1,000 for a commercial business.”

The report includes data charts for “Investment Gap by Region in 2020,” “Average Cost of a Power Interruption in the U.S.,” and “Completed Transmission Projects by Voltage.” The ASCE estimates that the transmission investment gap totals $37.3 billion and the distribution gap totals $57.4 billion. By region, the West has the biggest gaps in both categories.

The ASCE report also covers aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, ports, public parks and recreation, rail, roads, schools, solid waste, transit, and wastewater. The highest grade, B+, went to solid waste. The lowest grade, D-, went to inland waterways and levees. Infrastructure highlights are viewable by state.

Source: ASCE

Gail Reitenbach, PhD, Managing Editor (@POWERmagazine, @GailReit)

Thisi story was first published April 2.