Strengthening Inherited Infrastructure for a Decade of Action

By: Ruth Gratzke, President, Siemens Smart Infrastructure U.S.

There is an overall feeling of optimism as we head into the new year. Vaccines are being distributed, we’re seeing countries around the globe make serious strides to combat climate change and significant federal support for once-in-a-generation infrastructure improvements has made its way through Congress.

 

And as the foundation is being set to jumpstart rapid progress, now is an important moment to recognize the value of not just building new but revitalizing what is already in front of us — our country’s inherited infrastructure. In addition to the systems that we’ll need to build new, like a national EV charging network, now is the time to also look at infrastructure systems that have formed the backbone of our economy for decades including what has been called the greatest machine ever built -- our 100-year-old power grid, the nation’s aging buildings, and logistically essential airports. The technology and tools are available to us now to modernize our energy grids, make our communities more resilient, and our buildings more sustainable. And in utilizing these tools to strengthen, rather than starting only from scratch, we can put federal dollars to work in fast and powerful ways, making this a decade of real action.

The technology and tools are available to us now to modernize our energy grids, make our communities more resilient, and our buildings more sustainable. And in utilizing these tools to strengthen, rather than starting only from scratch, we can put federal dollars to work in fast and powerful ways, making this a decade of real action.

Energy Grids

The threat of extreme weather events, natural disasters and wildfires is increasing year-over-year. Pair this with the rise in energy demands and our grid has an enormous challenge to overcome, especially as power outages cost the U.S. economy up to $70 billion annually. And we don’t have the opportunity to build a new grid from scratch.

 

However, implementing digital tools like grid automation software, deploying microgrids and integrating data analysis technology into grid planning are already helping better forecast demand while withstanding volatility and unpredictability. Technologies seamlessly integrate into our grid to marry the digital with the real – providing intelligence and modernization to a system that is more than 100 years old in many pockets.

 

Here’s an example of where these digital tools are already having an impact. Siemens partnered with a century-old Native American reservation, Blue Lake Rancheria, to launch a solar powered microgrid for greater energy independence and resilience in wildfire prone Northern California. The reservation uses Siemens microgrid management software to “island” when needed so it can better prepare for weather events and natural disasters, allowing the Blue Lake Rancheria tribe to take control of its energy needs. And the system is working—it proved its resilience against extensive wildfire-related outages in 2019 and again during a COVID-19 linked disruption, creating a haven for those in need during the crisis.    

 

Airports

Much like crumbling roads and bridges, our airports lag far behind other countries’, with no U.S. airport ranking among the top 25 worldwide. With $25 billion soon available to address U.S. airport repair and maintenance backlogs, expansion of accessibility, and energy efficiency upgrades, we are enthusiastic by the opportunity to create genuine “smart airports” right here in the U.S. The integration of logistics software, IoT devices, and building management systems create a rich user experience with new levels of efficiency, safety and security.

 

Here, the keywords are “optimize” and “upgrade.” For example, simple upgrades to an airport’s HVAC system can cut back energy waste by up to 30 percent. Building automation and control systems not only create healthy and productive spaces, but intelligent connected infrastructure is inherently energy efficient.

 

In Kansas City, Siemens has partnered with SITA to provide building automation, fire and life safety systems and an IT network for the new Kansas City International Airport’s new 1 million sq. ft. 39-gate terminal. These scalable technologies will future-proof the new terminal, creating a smart airport that will enhance the passenger experience through automation. 

 

Smart Buildings

We spend up to 90 percent of our lives in buildings and the flow of energy, emissions, and air in and out of these structures results in a huge impact on emissions, efficiency and safety. Residential and commercial buildings alone contribute to nearly 75 percent of our nation’s energy usage. It’s a staggering number and one that we can’t impact by only focusing on designing and building new. We have to leverage the software and sensors available today to interconnect buildings and their systems so they can better understand the environment, interact, learn and adapt.

 

In New York City, one of the oldest and most notable buildings in the country is an example of how you can preserve history while moving into the future. Carnegie Hall is one of the oldest buildings to receive LEED certification, which was helped in part by integrating Siemens’ technology across intelligent building automation, fire and life safety, and power distribution tools.

 

Getting to Work

We are at a singularly unique moment in the history of American infrastructure. We have the opportunity to make the most of the investments being made to meet climate goals and remain competitive globally, while putting technology already at our fingertips to work for a more resilient, equitable and livable society. We have the right tools for the job, so it’s time to get to work.

Publislhed: November 16, 2021