Energy, infrastructure changes ahead

The next president promises vast changes to America’s energy and infrastructure plans. Details are sketchy, however.

12/19/2016


One of the basic tenets of president-elect Donald J. Trump’s bid for the White House was that of producing more energy in America. Energy, he has verbalized several times and stated on his official website, is a “central part of my plan to Making America Wealthy Again.” The United States is fortunate in its natural resources, and Trump’s website indicates “America is sitting on a treasure trove of untapped energy—some $50 trillion in shale energy, oil reserves, and natural gas on federal lands, in addition to hundreds of years of coal energy reserves.”

That’s great news for everyone concerned with the price of petroleum or crude oil, international relationships with countries that supply it, and those concerned with keeping more jobs in the oil and gas industry in the United States.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the import and export levels of petroleum products are about even, and the United States imports about 4.71 million barrels/day (MMb/d), roughly equivalent to what the U.S. exports to other countries. The top five countries the United States imports from includes our closest neighbors Canada (40%) and Mexico (8%) plus Saudi Arabia (11%), Venezuela (9%), and Colombia (4%).

In a speech on Sept. 22 in Pennsylvania, Trump shared broad ideas: lifting restrictions on energy including shale production, increasing the gross domestic product by $100 billion annually, and add 500,000 new jobs annually. By lowering taxes, renegotiating trade deals, and reducing regulation, the energy plan is aggressive and broad.

I’ve looked, but cannot find his plan for reducing energy use in buildings, one of the biggest uses of energy in the United States (commercial and residential buildings account for about 40% of energy use). The process of saving energy in buildings should, if I’m thinking correctly, allow for that saved energy to be used in other places.  

According to the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), the last survey done in 2012 included 6,720 buildings. The vast majority of buildings use electricity as an energy source, according to the data. In 2016 or 2017, depending on when the EIA will have a budget for the survey, data will be collected again.

Fortunately, Trump also has an infrastructure plan aimed mostly at transportation, water, and the electric grid. All of these elements are reaching end-of-life for their technology or structural components, and many are in desperate need of repair or replacement. This bodes well for many engineers; proposed plans project that new jobs will be created to reach the lofty goals.

I cannot, however, find any details on how the nation’s infrastructure plans will be funded or managed. Flexibility, spending reform, and public-private partnerships, as suggested by Trump’s website, will be crucial to the success of these plans. The team working on these projects will have their work cut out for them as they research, plan, and fund these intricate, technical, and expensive systems.

I look forward to learning more—and hearing success stories—as we move into the next four years. 



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