Why Aren't Power Lines Buried Underground?

Exploring the reasons behind power lines not being buried underground in the US and the challenges associated with this approach.

Why Aren't Power Lines Buried Underground?
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Have you ever wondered why power lines are not buried underground, especially when it could potentially prevent widespread power outages during hurricanes and other natural disasters?

It seems like a logical solution to protect the power infrastructure.

In this article, we will explore the various reasons why power lines in the US are primarily overhead, including the challenges associated with burying them underground at a larger scale.

Initial Installation: Cost and Complexity

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One major obstacle to burying power lines underground is the significant cost involved in installation.

Underground cable, which is needed for burying power lines, is more expensive compared to overhead lines.

The additional cost includes the conduit required for burying the cable.

Furthermore, the process of digging and trenching to lay the cables is both complex and time-consuming.

Construction companies encounter various challenges while digging, such as unexpected underground obstacles and complying with local regulations regarding excavation.

Maintenance and Repair Challenges

While burying power lines can potentially reduce the risk of damage from trees or wind, it presents unique challenges when it comes to maintenance and repairs.

Underground cables are rather difficult to diagnose and repair compared to overhead lines.

With overhead lines, it is relatively easy to detect the issue by identifying what parts should be in the air but are on the ground instead.

However, with underground lines, it requires specialized equipment such as a thumper to locate the point of failure.

Moreover, if damage occurs to the underground cable, it is more complicated and time-consuming to fix.

In some cases, repairs may involve digging up certain sections of the cable, causing disruptions to the surrounding area.

This can result in longer durations of power outages until the repairs are completed.

Scalability and Capacity

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While burying power lines may seem feasible on a smaller scale, extending this approach to an entire city poses additional challenges.

The process of burying power lines requires significant planning and coordination with other utility companies that have their infrastructure already underground, such as water, gas, and sewage.

These companies are often hesitant to have high-voltage power lines near their own infrastructure, which can increase the complexity of burying power lines in densely populated areas.

Furthermore, overhead lines offer greater flexibility when it comes to upgrading and adding capacity.

It is relatively easier to install additional overhead lines to accommodate growing power demand.

However, with buried power lines, adding capacity can be more challenging due to the need for additional underground infrastructure and coordination with multiple stakeholders.

Considerations for Critical Infrastructure

Another important aspect to consider is the need for accessibility to power lines, especially in emergency situations.

During natural disasters, power crews need quick access to the lines to restore electricity promptly.

Overhead lines provide better accessibility and easier visual identification of damaged sections, allowing repairs to be carried out more efficiently.

Balancing Aesthetics and Efficiency

It's worth noting that overhead power lines offer certain advantages beyond technical concerns.

Aesthetically, buried power lines are often considered more visually appealing as they do not obstruct views.

However, maintaining aesthetics must be balanced with the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the power infrastructure.

The decision to bury power lines or keep them overhead is often a matter of trade-offs between aesthetic appeal, installation costs, and ease of maintenance.