Future Forward: Engineers Are Going To Be Busy for a Long Time
This particular webcam interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the full interview above or by visiting bit.ly/35UCpNl .
These profiles are based on interviews, and the opinions and statements are those of the subject and are not necessarily shared or endorsed by this publication.
Rhame has been involved on the financial side of the infrastructure industry for nearly 20 years, managing portfolios for a variety of constituents and customers as well as studying how laws and regulations will affect the financial viability of projects, companies and entire utility segments. With such a background, he knows the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal passed in November 2021 is a nearly unprecedented piece of legislation.
“It’s nice to see an infrastructure bill pass,” he says. Although an infrastructure law has been hoped for and sometimes promised by previous administrations, Rhame notes how difficult it has been because there are so many local issues to try and make work in a national bill. “It’s really hard to pass an infrastructure law, and just actually getting one over the finish line seems like a big accomplishment.”
Multitude of Benefits
Rhame believes the law will benefit many construction businesses within the infrastructure industry, but he’s particularly interested in the specific money set aside for water pipelines, grid resilience, electric vehicle charging stations and electric transmission. He’s also excited about the broadband provisions and how big cable companies will connect rural areas with high-speed internet.
“I think there’s a big backlog of potential new wind and solar and battery plants that will be put in once [electricity] transmission congestions are removed,” he adds.
The water industry in another area where Rhame sees potential major benefits, with $55 billion set aside to improve water infrastructure and transmission as well as prevent the contamination problems that famously beset Flint, Mich.
“We have a huge problem where the country’s water pipelines have an average age of about a hundred years,” he notes. “If you look at what your water came through, you’d be pretty disgusted.”
Rhame believes water municipalities have likely been doing the best they can with limited finances, but the new law could change all of that. “Many municipalities just don’t have the financial capacity to dig up Main Street and put in new water pipelines. Chances are, they’re not even entirely sure where all the water pipelines are working.”
A Very Busy Future
According to Rhame, as with any government funding, it may take a year or so for projects to really get off the ground. But when they do, he believes there will be decades of demand for major projects in complex situations.
“Laying fiber out to rural areas is complex to figure out,” he notes. “How much to do? How much to charge? How can you actually earn a return on it?”
Additional complexities include adding 50 percent or higher renewable energy when continuous power is needed as well as powering electric vehicles with different voltages in smaller systems and varying charging stations.
“Figuring out the solutions to all of that and then actually doing the work is setting up to be a very busy time for engineers,” he adds. “I’m definitely excited to see all the activity that comes out of [the Infrastructure Law].”