Emerging Markets to Watch
It’s a good time for composites to make the utilities industry sit up and take notice, as there are significant opportunities for growth here. The PUCs’ demand for improvement is just one prompt pushing change.
“Polymer wastewater infrastructure components are among the biggest changes we are seeing, with a shift in the market to a lighter, stronger and [more] chemical-resistant product that requires little to no maintenance,” Yoakum says.
In the electric industry, composites are primarily being used in distribution lines, the relatively low-voltage segment that delivers electricity to consumers. The transmission segment – the higher voltage segment carrying electricity across longer spans such as from grid to city – remains an opportunity for significant growth. Casad notes that there are some challenges to overcome first. “The selling process is different in transmission because there is much more application engineering and customization required,” he says. He adds that this has increased the importance of GEOTEK’s application engineering resources.
In addition, there are related applications emerging in the telecommunications industry. “Possibly the greatest changes for the use of these products is the emergence and growth of the fiber optic telecommunications systems,” Yoakum says. “The use of fiber has progressed from long distance transmission lines to loop systems around major metro areas to fiber distribution into neighborhoods. Currently, these fiber networks are being extended to the curb and to the home, allowing vast amounts of information to be transmitted and accessed from businesses and homes.” Today, Yoakum says, most of the fiber optics lines needed to supply these applications are spliced underground in polymer concrete enclosures.
Holmes sees more telecommunications opportunities aboveground. “We’re trying to support the utilities where they want to have third-party telecommunications companies attach into their pole,” he says. “In a lot of cases this has driven utilities to increase the load capacity of their poles.”
When the windstorms swept through California in 2011, overloading was a major factor contributing to downed utility poles. Telecommunications companies had attached scores of phone and cable lines in densely populated areas. “Those poles were put in a long time ago, and over time they’re supposed to reevaluate the loads on the poles as they attach more wires for telecommunications,” says Holmes. “But something broke down in this process on the telecommunications side, so a lot of these poles failed at that location when the storms came through.”