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The global utility pole market is projected to reach US$ 64.54 Billion by 2031, with a CAGR of 4.3%. – A report by Astute Analytica.

This stat clearly depicts how far the utility poles market has witnessed significant growth in recent years and will continue expanding in the coming decade.

In today’s digitized era, energy is paramount to every economy in the modern world.

Utility poles play a crucial role in distributing and transmitting electricity, utility services, and telecommunication in Asia and North America largely supporting fibre optic cables, powerlines, and other infrastructure components, to deliver electricity and communication signals to businesses and customers alike.

The increasing prevalence of urbanization, population density, and industrial structures has necessitated the expansion of existing power infrastructures, leading to burgeoning demand for utility poles.

But what happens when there is a sudden outage caused by utility poles?

It impacts accessibility to critical health services, water supply, communications, and overall economic growth. 

Power and utility organizations operate in a constantly shifting regulatory landscape; hence, they must respond to these challenges to build a resilient connectivity ecosystem.

Utility Pole Clearance for Resilient Infrastructure

Indeed, there is a lot more included in the pole loading calculations, which are not limited to:

  • cable type (Power, CATV, Telco, Fibre)
  • cable diameter, span length (adjacent connections)
  • cable angles, pole material or species (steel, concrete, wood types)
  • pole class
  • buried depth
  • guying (such as down guys or pole-to-pole guys)
  • pole top extensions (used to extend the height of an existing pole)
  • cable attachment type (angle, dead end, tangent, junction, etc.)
  • And power or communications equipment attached to the pole (transformers, capacitor banks, auto switches, TV power boxes, etc.)

Yes, there are other factors too, which are carefully considered in this process, such as current industry specifications, type of adjacent crossing (if any), CSA, G.O 95, NESC construction grade, weather (most pole loading calculations use the NESC loading district to determine wind and ice loading), etc.

Utilities that fail to integrate resilience into their core business operations and assets risk disruptions with a decline in their viability and profitability in the longer run.

On the other side, managing incalculable miles of powerlines and numerous poles along with the critical assets is tedious, especially while dealing with the ever-changing ecosystem of vegetation and tree growth.

Utility grid resilience is way beyond providing a continuous source of power capable of weathering the storm.

Grid planners and operators have long managed this inherent vulnerability through redundancy and hardening of critical equipment but cannot completely avoid outage risks.

Thus, it is highly recommended that the utility sector combines digital business models to answer modern resilience challenges and optimize operational efficiency.

To combat this challenge, various technologies are maturing, converging, and forming the next wave to disrupt it.

GIS Redefining Utility Network Design & Management for Resilient Infrastructure

Utilities often struggle with assessing their infrastructure, resulting in erroneous data on the location.

To accelerate and standardize the data collection process, GIS powered by advanced technologies come forward to facilitate a higher standard of network resilience while mitigating the risks of losing thousands of dollars in the repair/replacement of a distribution pole. 

Detailed and precise GIS data enriches utilities’ existing grid asset databases and predicts how vegetation growth might impact transmission and distribution lines. 

Leveraging advanced geospatial technologies, utilities can expedite the inspection process, gain insight into the condition of their assets, make crucial decisions, and deliver a highly precise network model that simulates and prepares utilities for any scenario.

Consequently, GIS technologies ensure the entire utility sector grows collectively stronger and smarter in responding to climate change-related hazards or disasters.

Trends for Utility Pole Resilience

Human-made threats and natural disasters will continue plaguing the power and utilities sector. Thus, utilities are looking beyond the changing technological landscape in assessing resilience risks and opportunities to mitigate them. Below, we have outlined utility trends to vouch for in 2023 and beyond.

AI for inspection efficiency:

AI-powered utility asset management improves inspection efficiency with minimal human intervention required.

It ensures converting the utility maintenance workflow into a proactive, expedited outcome with comprehensive and high-quality data on the grid. 

On the other hand, AI-driven utility asset inspection is a low-cost and time-optimized task.

The confluence of emerging technologies ensures managing catastrophic outages timely and of critical importance to mitigate the economic risks associated with even a single large-scale outage event.

Now, using AI technology, utilities can include a more comprehensive solution to identify vegetation breaching predefined zones around power lines so that required action can be taken. 

It integrates satellite imagery and data insights for weather forecasts and asset health. These solutions can be linked to existing tree trimming and maintenance operational systems.

Automation for system reliability: 

The era of digitalization is upon us, and no industry/sector is an exception to it. 

The utilities can enhance the efficiency and reliability of their grid system with automation- a subset of digitalization.

Leveraging automated systems, utilities can detect and respond to issues and reduce downtime and power outages in a shorter time, resulting in lower costs and improved customer satisfaction. 

Conclusion

The power grid is poised to play an increasing role in economic growth for decades. It requires long-term planning and an appetite for capital investment for seamless operations of tomorrow. At the same time, utilities are not immune to sustained outages, leading to costly and deadly consequences worldwide.

The fury of nature will continue testing the resilience measure for utility poles. Hence, it calls for a robust structure led by an advanced technology ecosystem.With new approaches/trends, grid planners can design a much more robust platform that is least volatile and fragile. These emerging utility resilience trends align with market-driven investment trends while offering more significant resilience benefits and economic value.

Author: Henna Zakir
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