Follow the money. It leads straight to America’s utility sector, according to a 2008 study that is still getting talked about. It is called “Transforming America’s Power Industry” and was prepared by the Brattle Group and the Edison Foundation.
It reports that the electric utility industry will invest $1.5 trillion by 2030 in infrastructure.
That $1.5 trillion is a lot of money. Divided by the U.S. population, that is roughly $5,000 for every man, woman and child in the country. It is bigger than the deficit this year.
It is double the huge stimulus package that President Obama and Congress put in place two years ago to fight the recession and avoid a depression.
But there is another yardstick that I would like to use that is perhaps more meaningful.
Using rough, back of the envelop estimates, the asset value of investor-owned utilities is $737 billion. The assets of public power including federal entities add up to about $200 billion. The rural coops have a net asset value of about $141 billion.
That means that utilities will have to raise and spend in two decades 1.5 times their current net asset value, built up over decades, if not a century.
Imagine if you have to come up with the equivalent of 150 percent of your net worth today to keep your household on an even keel for the next two decades! That is the magnitude of the challenge before utilities.
What will the money be spent on? We will need 214 gigawatts of generation – costing $697 billion. Some of that needed generation can be avoided by stepping up our efforts for energy efficiency.
Specifically, the price tag for new generation can be cut $192 billion, to a total of $505 billion. But that would require an investment of $85 billion in advanced metering infrastructure and energy efficiency and demand response programs. So the net savings that can be achieved is $107 billion.
What about transmission and distribution? It will total $298 billion for transmission and $582 billion for distribution, for a grand total of $880 billion.
In recent years, a lot has been said about “shovel ready jobs.” Usually, that has meant highway construction. Ten years ago, annual highway construction amounted to $38 billion, twice the sum spent by the power sector.
Last year, America spent $83 billion on highways – and $79 billion on the power sector – almost equal sums.
Utilities will be a big part of America’s comeback story.