Resilient Infrastructure: Economic Growth Strategy

Resilient infrastructure. For the industries responsible for America’s infrastructure, the concept seems simple enough: infrastructure should be able to withstand a powerful, unexpected blow without collapsing under the impact. Yet, a closer look reveals a more complicated issue.

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In our last post, we looked at the potential for resilient infrastructure and began to consider how stakeholders of high-performance buildings have a strong hand in shaping such a future.

The effort to generate support for investment in energy efficiency on the scale required for genuine resilience is, at best, a work in progress. And there currently is no definitive study on the table to show exactly what the economic consequences of a broad reconstitution of American infrastructure might be. It is possible, however, to outline several key issues that such a study should address.

  1. Energy inefficiency means energy waste. Since the 1980s, the American investment community has left few stones unturned in the effort to cut waste. The first objective should be to provide a plausible account of the cost of wasted energy to the overall economy.
  2. Investment in energy-efficient resilience means opportunity cost. The dollars needed for resilience are today being invested elsewhere — and they need to be moved. The second objective should be to provide an analysis of the risk/reward profile of current investment dollar distribution compared to that required for resilience rooted in energy efficiency.
  3. Redeployment of capital means what might be termed a new liquidity profile: how much time is required for the value of the “New Resilience” economy to be available to investors. And that question cannot be considered apart from an inventory of strategies for monetizing the real value of energy efficiency.

Such issues are the bread and butter of the financial world; the tools used provide the knowledge base of the world’s investment profile. The decisive issue confronting advocates of resilient infrastructure, however, may not be whether it is an economic growth engine, but how to get the financial community to take that possibility seriously enough to study it.

In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at the resilient infrastructure toolkit.

 

The resilient infrastructure toolkit

A major step can be taken toward attracting the attention of the financial community by showing that there is a path to resilience. That is a task for the building delivery and management industries.

Certainties are not easy; resilience for New York City will differ from resilience in Atlanta, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Common features, however, can be discerned to form the outline of a resilience toolkit applicable across a diverse continent.

  1. 1. Lab Testing: A critical question is whether the proposed equipment or design will perform as promised. Certainty requires modeling, testing, and certification. Industry and the scientific community need to move forward rapidly with tools and facilities for testing equipment and building performance that can provide markets with confidence that both equipment and buildings will meet performance goals.
  2. Lifecycle Costing: Enhancing certainty on performance will strengthen the case for lifecycle costing, but lifecycle analysis needs to be brought to the level of a verifiable science that is compelling to the financial community.
  3. Training and Certification: Efficiency and resiliency often mean complexity. Equipment is sophisticated, systems interdependent, and back-up systems redundant — layers of integration are required. The complex structures of effective resiliency cannot be built or maintained without a workforce equipped with capabilities that are rare today. Resilience requires a new partnership between industry and education to ensure a workforce that is certified to be resilience-capable.
  4. Standards and Codes: Experience teaches that the bulk of the building infrastructure will be built to code, but no better. A new approach to standards and codes, driven by a vision of resilience-level performance, needs to be developed.

 

Resilience in the new world of energy

Resilience links energy, CO2, and climate with new threats to essential systems of American business and life. The transformation of America’s energy is a task so vast it calls into question whether it is the tide that could be ridden by advocates of resilient infrastructure. Although how far the shift in energy can be leveraged to achieve resilience is uncertain, the power shift on energy will certainly create opportunities for America’s building and infrastructure industries, policy makers, scientists, and utilities to make common cause on behalf of a historic transformation toward resilience.

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