Can Composite Poles Vault Across the Opposition?

In the pole segment of the infrastructure market, composites enjoy two unique positions in two different pole variations. Concerning utility poles, composites have growth opportunities. In commercial poles, composites face challenges for similar growth levels.

RS Technologies has had success solely focusing on transmission poles. They’re often asked how composite poles function compared to other materials, particularly with attaching conductor lines. “There is a slightly different set of hardware involved with composite poles,” says Joel Tennison, director of corporate development for RS. When using composite poles, the focus shifts from fitting lines through a pole to fitting them around a pole because of the structural crossbars that run through the pole.

RS designs the poles in a way that they can be distributed in sections. These are held together with jacking lugs in drilled holes, which creates a strong bond. The modular design allows for flexibility in pole height. Skagerak Energi AS, a Norwegian utility company, was able to increase the height of the poles to allow longer spans, an impossibility with wooden poles. This installation option allowed Skagerak to build a section with only six pole installation sites instead of the previous nine.

On the other side, Carsonite Composites sales representative Jim Bob Wiles tries to play up the benefits of installation when selling the company’s poles. He says the biggest advantage composite poles have is being able to be direct-buried. Steel poles require a concrete foundation, the pouring and laying of which adds extra time to the installation process. “With ours, you dig a hole, bury the pole, pull your cable through and pack dirt around it and you’re done,” he says.

But ask Wiles why composite commercial poles are lacking, and he just chuckles. Cost is the primary factor. Even though the installation costs are less for composite poles, the poles themselves cost more. Also, Wiles says the commercial market is used to using an anchor base and has difficulty moving beyond that. “It’s interesting that they put up a 100-foot utility pole by digging a hole and bury it, but they think that approach can’t work for an 18-foot electrical pole,” he says.

As is the case with other infrastructure applications, acceptance of composites is no easy feat for end-users accustomed to traditional materials. To combat this, the company focuses on the positive aspects of composite poles. “An installer can hoist and erect a post with lighter equipment, such as a boom truck instead of a crane,” says Tennison.