As the old (pipelines, electrical grids, power plans) meets the new (drilling techniques, sources of fossil fuels, renewables), it’s time for an upgrade
The “Aging of America” is no longer just about baby boomers and their extended life spans. Nowadays, you can just as easily apply the term to the nation’s sprawling energy infrastructure. That’s because parts of it are antique.
- Some natural gas pipelines were installed before the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Older pipes made of unprotected cast iron and steel, as well as newer pipes made of plastic, are prone to leaks.
- Several coal-fired power plants still in use today were under construction just as the first baby boomer saw the light of day in 1946. Coal is cheap, but it’s a significant source of atmospheric carbon.
- The electric grid uses fundamentals developed by Thomas Edison in the 1880s. The system lacks widespread use of “smart” technologies that can help reduce power outages and increase efficiency.
Yet even as sections at times appear close to collapse, almost the entire system is coming under even greater pressure from an increase in energy production and consumption, as well as extraneous and uncontrollable forces.
- New drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing (fracking) have channeled higher volumes of natural gas and oil into the aging pipeline network.
- The nation’s overall electricity consumption increased steadily during the last decade.
- Last year’s massive storms in the Northeast revealed how vulnerable parts of the infrastructure are — and climatologists suspect that weather conditions may grow more extreme as global temperatures rise.
Upgrade Investment Opportunities
Clearly, our energy infrastructure is in need of an upgrade. The system is vast, and any significant improvement will almost certainly take years. We believe it should also provide plenty of investment opportunities.
As Chris Hyzy, head of investment strategy at U.S. Trust, has noted: “The strategic need to correct the inefficiencies and structural deficiencies of our energy infrastructure is massive. The capital needed simply to maintain current capacity is extraordinary, and the long-term capital-return potential is favorable. The investment opportunity in this space captures the growth aspects of long-term structural change in global demographics and is enhanced, in the short term, by the supply-demand imbalance. These are exactly the sorts of investment opportunities we search for when allocating portfolio capital across the entire asset class spectrum.”
In “Energy Independence at Last?” in Capital Acumen Issue 22, members of U.S. Trust’s Specialty Asset Management (SAM) group briefly shared their insights on where investors should — and should not — look for infrastructure-related investment opportunities to consider. In this infographic, the SAM group, along with U.S. Trust’s Investment Strategy group, expand on those ideas.
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