February 2022 | Vol. 27 No.2
In November 2021, the federal government passed the second-largest piece of infrastructure legislation in a century. Today, it’s sitting on our industry’s doorstep.
Far from being limited to roads and bridges, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, commonly known as the infrastructure law, will deliver nearly half a trillion dollars for upgrading NEMA-related infrastructure: $370.3 billion for transportation, $29.75 billion for buildings, $32.27 billion for industrial facilities, and $48.78 billion for utilities and the grid.
The new law has the potential to transform the way our country uses electricity. But so far, it remains just that—potential. To convert it into kinetic transformation, our industry needs to advocate for the change we want see. We have the power to encourage policymakers to invest in infrastructure fit for the future. And we’ve already had success doing that—in fact, NEMA successfully pushed for additional funding for grid modernization in IIJA. That’s a big win, but still, we can do more.
Because this is a once-in-a-generation investment, we need to think in generational timeframes. So, in this column, I want to articulate a vision of infrastructure fit for our children’s children.
It starts with a question: What will the world look like in 2040 or 2050? We know there will be more extreme weather and more energy use. At the same time, we need infrastructure that achieves less fragility with less carbon.
To do so, the future must be digital and electric. Digital, because digitization is how we make invisible energy waste visible. It’s also how we harness remote monitoring and predictive maintenance to achieve deep resilience. And electric, because electricity is the most efficient form of energy and thus the best vector for decarbonization. Our transportation fuels, heating and cooling systems, and other core infrastructure must migrate toward electricity and away from fossil fuels. This combination of electrification and digitization is called Electricity 4.0.
To be clear, Electricity 4.0 isn’t just an opportunity for grids. It’s an opportunity for homes, buildings, data centers, industry, and infrastructure. Everywhere Americans use electricity—which is basically everywhere—digitized electricity will unleash efficiency and resilience.
Electricity 4.0 is also meant for gleaming new skyscrapers, smart factories, and other greenfields. It’s just as essential for our existing building stock, most of which will still be in service in 2040 and beyond. This includes many of our essential airports, wastewater treatment plants, and factories.
It’s possible to teach these old buildings new tricks. For example, at Schneider Electric, one of our factories in Kentucky was built in the 1950s. Today, through digital modernization, it’s recognized by the World Economic Forum as one of the most advanced factories on Earth, achieving energy savings of 26 percent and a 78 percent carbon emissions reduction. Electricity 4.0 is the core enabler of these outcomes.
We as an industry need to serve as the experts in helping to transform our nation’s infrastructure. As funding flows from federal agencies to state and local governments, we should actively advocate for digitized and electrified outcomes. I believe our children and grandchildren will thank us for it. ei
Annette Kay Clayton
Chair, NEMA Board of Governors