Technology has the ability to fundamentally change the way we manage our energy. Ideas like the smart grid are helping reduce the carbon footprint of millions around the globe. As time goes on, more industries seem to be catching on to the benefits of the smart grid—including construction.

This idea of a growing smart-energy movement is reinforced by new data from Navigant Research, www.navigantresearch.com, Boulder, Colo., which says the market for smart grid technology will grow to $73 billion in revenue by the end of 2020. Compare this figure to the $33 billion realized in 2012 and you start to see a compound annual growth rate of 10%.

A variety of factors are contributing to such an extensive increase. But the impact of those factors varies geographically. For instance, distribution automation processes may vary due to different design approaches. European grids rely less on feeder circuits than do North American grids, which results in a larger number of meters per substation. As such, distribution automation expenses can be decreased in Europe, as fewer circuits need to be upgraded.

Transmission upgrades also serve different purposes in different regions. For example, North America has experienced a considerable increase in the deployment of HVDC (high-voltage direct current) transmission lines, which bring renewable energy from distant plants to load centers. In contrast, HV (high-voltage) transmission build-outs in countries like China, India, Brazil, and Chile are often tasked with sending power from newly constructed generation fleets to new load centers.

The report says the smart grid market in North America is currently in a downswing, as stimulus-funded spending on AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) has decreased. This could impact major infrastructure projects, although FMI, www.fminet.com, Raleigh, N.C., predicts construction for the power market to grow between 8% and 9% through 2017. According to FMI, these markets offer a relative bright spot compared to other infrastructure markets, such as transportation and water. Although FMI does offer a level of caution to the market in general due to factors such as regulatory uncertainty.

While it is uncertain how the smart grid will impact infrastructure projects, we are seeing some success from smart-energy construction being tied directly to other parts of construction: namely residential.

A look at how this is affecting the construction industry comes from the residential market. Balfour Beatty Communities LLC, a subsidiary of Balfour Beatty Capital Group Inc., www.balfourbeattycommunities.com, Newtown Square, Pa., recently announced results of a project it was doing for the Navy Southeast Region Military Housing Privatization Project. Part of the Smart Grid Data Access Award from the DOE (Dept. of Energy), www.doe.gov, Washington, D.C., the “Switch 4 Good” program was piloted this past Spring in more than 3,900 military family homes.

The program was developed to help residents in military housing better manage their energy use by providing them with energy management. Results were encouraging with a 16% monthly reduction in energy costs, resulting in an average savings of $20 per month.

As the nation’s infrastructure prepares for the coming of the smart grid and smart energy, multiple parts of construction will have their say in how it all plays out.