Sustainability in Infrastructure

The natural environment offers opportunities for more sustainable systems in infrastructure

By Julia Edinger

The world is changing at a rapid pace, and with it, the way that we define infrastructure. As technology advances, it is imperative that the systems Americans rely on advance, as well. From relying more heavily on clean energy sources to implementing predictive technology to make existing systems more resilient and efficient, it is a new era for infrastructure professionals.

Resourcefulness in Renewables

The growing role of renewable energy as a fundamental part of the nation’s infrastructure is undeniable. This year, the U.S. Energy Information Administration published a report predicting renewable energy, led by solar and wind, would be the fastest-growing electricity source this year and the next. While challenges still exist, this certainly seems to be the case.

A growing number of cities, counties, and states have made the commitment to transition to using 100 percent renewable energy before the year 2050. Of those, there are a number of cities that have fully transitioned to 100 percent renewable energy already — from Burlington, VT to Georgetown, TX.

With these monumental standards as a goal, the work can begin. With all of the work that has yet to be done to help facilitate the national transition, there must also be people willing and able to do the work. Jobs in renewable energy are booming. According to a Bloomberg analysis of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ biennial employment projections, jobs in solar panel installation and wind turbine technical work are expected to grow at double the rate of any other occupations.

More leaders in the energy industry nationwide are seeking to utilize renewables, and the rate at which it is increasing is only expected to grow. While some uses of renewables are added features of a project, more and more projects are being dedicated specifically to advancing renewable energy capacity, such as creating wind and solar farms. These projects have the ability to revitalize a brownfield site in a way that gives back to the community it occupies.

As the world evolves, America must evolve with it; that evolution is powered by energy. Renewable energy provides a sustainable solution to make the nation’s infrastructure more resilient and secure.

Advanced Technology Advances Infrastructure

Technology continuously shapes the way people interact with the world around them, from shopping, to research, to infrastructure. Technology is constantly delivering new developments and making things possible that could only be imagined in the past.

With the technology that exists today, professionals can monitor infrastructure remotely with things like sensor technology, drones, and data capture. These technologies can improve the efficiency of a wide variety of systems. Whether it is ensuring the pipeline is not carrying more water than necessary or preparing for a system failure before it occurs, there is a wide range of benefits to this type of data.

This information allows infrastructure professionals to better analyze the way they prioritize infrastructure projects, and they help reduce waste — both in cost and impact. Ultimately, the more information project leaders have access too, the more effectively they can make decisions.

Some of the new technology being implemented in cities across the country does not appear to be technology as one may traditionally imagine it. It is not necessarily a web-based app, but instead, could look like a simple garden bed to the untrained eye. Green infrastructure is a widely discussed topic in stormwater solutions as the extreme storms resulting from climate change continue to occur more frequently.

“Green infrastructure coupled with grey infrastructure is going to be helping and be a big part of the solution,” explained Tom Kunetz, President of the Water Environment Federation. “But green infrastructure is not just a pile of grass. It’s a living technology, and it needs to be properly designed, constructed, and maintained.”

There are many environmental benefits to adding green infrastructure. It can be done on a small scale to combat new construction or to mitigate risks in a flood zone. Some cities, though, are implementing citywide green stormwater infrastructure programs in order to be more resilient. One such example is Philadelphia, which has implemented Green City, Clean Waters, resulting in economic and environmental benefits.

“This program keeps billions of gallons of runoff and combined sewer overflows out of our waterways over the course of a year, all by investing in sewer infrastructure and making our neighborhoods greener,” stated Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

Between solar panels, drones, and rain gardens, the technology of the future is going to look and function differently than that of the past. Still, it all comes back to environment — impact, preservation, and protection. Industry leaders should take note of the technology nature provides. The environment is offering resources for the infrastructure of the future; take them.

Julia Edinger is the Editor for American Infrastructure Magazine. She can be reached at julia@penpubinc.com

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