Infrastructure Matters: Improving Energy Infrastructure Has Big Impact on Efficiency, Savings

Wednesday, May 18, 2016 12:00 pm EDT


Kevin Yates, President , Siemens Energy Management

By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities.  With current U.S. infrastructure earning a D+ grade by The American Society of Civil Engineers, the country can’t expect to sustain economic success and a growing population without acknowledging the impact it has on competitiveness and quality of life. The answer is building infrastructure that is smarter. Intelligent technologies not only improve systems, but make them more intuitive, safer, cleaner, and more efficient. All of which supports high-tech jobs in engineering and manufacturing, and provides cities with an opportunity achieve cost savings. Siemens has developed new, intelligent technology and software across energy, buildings, transportation and industry that improves and modernizes U.S. infrastructure to ensure the economic success and longevity of cities across America. To learn more and for expert insights, sign up for our blog and follow @SiemensUSA.

As mayors, city leaders, policymakers, industry and business leaders and experts come together this week to discuss the importance of modernizing and improving U.S. infrastructure, it’s essential to not only look at our roads and bridges, but to focus on our energy infrastructure.

Today’s energy systems, as they stand, are not ready or able to manage today’s new energy mix or the needs of a growing population.  Some infrastructure that links power lines is over a century old and the majority of the grid itself was built before the Internet was invented. In other industries where infrastructure may be insufficient, a likely answer would be to rebuild. But, this isn’t the only option for our energy systems. We can use technology to make them smarter, more efficient and resilient.

It’s what we’re doing in Chicago by installing new power distribution technology that will help modernize the city’s South Water Purification plant. Together with the James W. Jardine Water Purification Plant, these two plants provide nearly one billion gallons of clean, drinkable water from Lake Michigan daily for over five million Chicagoans and 125 surrounding suburbs. The upgrades, including medium-voltage switchgear and control, low-voltage switchgear and power transformers, will allow the plant to distribute power more efficiently to key process points throughout the plant to keep water flowing. The improvements will save the city up to $4 million a year in energy and maintenance costs, a significant impact for Chicago’s bottom line.

We’re doing similar work in Holland, Michigan for a new combined cycle power plant. We will be providing all the major electrical equipment for the fuel-efficient Holland Energy Park plant that is slated for operation in fall 2016.  The new technology, which includes switchgear and motor controls, will monitor the operation across the entire plant and will also use waste heat from the circulating water system for use in an expanding downtown snowmelt initiative.

Making energy infrastructure more efficient is essential to getting the most out of a 21st century energy mix. But, it’s just not about the bottom line. Using intelligent technology, cities and power operators can significantly reduce their carbon footprint as well. In northern California, we are working with a Blue Lake Rancheria to build a microgrid that will manage renewable power sources including biomass and solar for the 100+ acre Native American reservation.  Software will monitor and control these resources to keep electricity flowing during extreme weather events and is estimated to reduce 150 tons of carbon annually.

There is no doubt that, as a nation, there are challenges in getting our critical infrastructures, including energy, up to par. But, it’s essential that we acknowledge the role technology can play in not only making these systems ready for today’s energy mix, but able to handle the shifting landscape in the future.