As a result, utilities are looking at increasing their load rating to the next grade for stronger poles. Taller poles also are appealing, since they present more real estate for bundling in telecommunication lines.
Holmes also is watching the potential for new infrastructure as the country moves more aggressively toward solar power. Larger utilities are being mandated to support a certain percentage of their power production with diversified energy resources, while some states are enacting legislation to increase use of solar. “They’re going to have to set up new networks to tie into these solar networks, and that will be a combination of both transmission and distribution lines,” Holmes says. And like solar itself, composites promise a sustainable, reliable alternative to existing options.
Improving on Today’s Product
To best take advantage of these opportunities, composites manufacturers are aiming to sell their products not on reliability alone, but on ease of use as well. As Casad points out, “Electric utilities are often short-staffed. We can help drive penetration by making adoption easy for engineering staffs that are working to keep their heads above water.”
Ease of installation is a significant concern for utilities dealing with upgrades in remote locations and difficult to access backlots. Long points out that the main reasons his Pennsylvania cooperative has been using fiberglass crossarms for dead-end towers for the last 20 years or so “is for their clean installation [no braces].”
“Linemen are often skeptical of switching from wood to fiberglass, but once they do, they become our biggest advocates,” Casad finds. He says that installers appreciate that GFRP crossarms assemblies are typically pre-assembled.
Holmes adds that the ability for linemen to hand carry composite poles weighing approximately 800 pounds compared to 2,200 pounds of wood or 5,000 pounds of steel pole appeals to utilities servicing areas with challenging terrain.
Of course, utilities have their own suggestions for improving ease of use. McDonald, for example, says he’d like to see a wider range of adjustability on the clamps holding electrical lines on composite transmission arms. Brammer says color-coded end caps on the crossarms would help linemen more easily determine an installed products’ strength at a glance from the ground. These composite converts say that product manufacturers are quick to respond to their requests for solutions that ease the job, and they are pushing for more innovative features.
As new features are continually added, and the utilities market grows in new directions, there is every reason to expect higher levels of composite use.