Few people are aware of Nikola Tesla’s contributions to electricity, some of which Thomas Edison stole. Tesla was always a dreamer and envisioned a future far more advanced than today. For example, his dream of a future with wireless electricity.
Unfortunately, we are still a ways away from trading wires for electricity over the airwaves. We still have to rely on power lines, a technology that seems ancient by our modern standards. Especially the fact that we dangle them from poles where they are vulnerable to birds and the weather.
If Tesla were around, he’d probably ask this: why don’t we bury them? In this article, we answer why we don’t put power lines underground.
Can You Have Underground Power Lines?
Yes, you can run underground utility lines. They function just as well as those above ground. After all, most Internet lines are underground, not above ground.
In fact, putting them underground is superior to utility lines mounted on poles. Beneath the Earth, they don’t suffer from signal interference or power loss. By transmitting underground, more electricity arrives at the endpoint than above ground.
Other Disadvantages With Aboveground Power Lines
Underground electricity is more resilient in the event of a disaster. Strong winds, storms, hurricanes, and more can easily knock down power lines.
Once you’ve knocked them down, it can take hours for utility companies to put them back up again. Individuals may need to rely on a transmitter in the meantime. Find more information on pilottrackhdd.com.
Additionally, downed powerlines are a threat to anyone who gets close. Exposed wires can easily electrocute an unwary bystander. Even without electricity, a falling pole can easily crush a car–or a person.
Underground lines are also resilient against pests. They usually have a pipe to protect them. Run lines on poles, and immediately birds will perch on them–which damages them.
Disadvantages of Underground Utility Lines
To be clear, underground lines are not perfect solutions. They come with their own weaknesses.
First and foremost, it’s much more time-consuming to repair or replace them. You have to dig up the line, carefully, then bury it again. Depending on where the lines are running, you might need to dismantle infrastructure like roads and buildings.
Further, power lines underground are vulnerable in the event of earthquakes. If a serious earthquake strikes a city, then reestablishing power could take much longer. With poles, it only takes a few hours to get things up and running again.
Finally, there is one significant disadvantage: cost. Underground utility lines cost 10 times as much as standard power lines. You’ll see in a moment why that particular fact matters.
However, by comparison, these disadvantages seem minimal. In fact, many developed nations have underground power lines. Places like the Netherlands and Germany keep their lines underground.
Why Aren’t Power Lines Underground, Then?
The answer isn’t that complicated and comes down to one factor: cost. That’s right, the only reason we have pole-mounted power lines is because it’s cheaper that way. Utility companies will charge you an arm and a leg, and then pocket the money rather than improve our infrastructure.
And like we said, it’s cheaper by a factor of 10. Here are all the reasons why:
- Installation is cheap
- The lines are accessible, making repair and replacement easy
- Damage is easy to locate
- The wood for the poles is cheap
- Installing poles is cheap
Why Are Underground Power Lines So Expensive?
It would seem at first glance like the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. But underground utility lines are significantly more expensive for the following reasons:
- Digging requires backhoes and excavators, which are expensive to rent
- This digging equipment requires skilled operators to use them
- Digging can often shut down roads and other critical infrastructure
- The digging needs to be judicious to avoid damaging Internet and water pipes
- Burying new power lines also requires care and planning
- Utility companies must map and mark the location of the new line
The Big Question: Should We Change to Underground Power Lines?
There is no clear yes or no answer. This is a topic that doesn’t get much debate because many people haven’t considered the alternative. As with many things in America, we tend to lag behind modern standards common to Europe.
However, we believe that it’s gone on long enough. The damage, danger, and inconvenience of above-ground powerlines need to stop. Here is the reason why.
Public Safety and Convenience Outweighs Profit
Unfortunately, the US views too many things through the lens of profit. A perfect example is healthcare. At its base level, healthcare should really only exist to ensure that everyone has good health.
And yet, the US has seen to privatize much of its healthcare, making it ludicrously expensive and unaffordable for most. The argument goes that it must be this way. Otherwise, companies would be unable to make a profit.
This is the wrong view. Public utilities and services don’t need to make a profit–nor should we expect them to. They just need to serve the public and serve us well.
Sure, power lines underground would cost significantly more than the current situation. But it would save lives, reduce the frequency of outages, and stop cluttering the sides of our streets.
Businesses that are not essential to the American way of life can and should make a profit. But anything that provides needed goods and services should not. Especially considering how much companies that provide these necessary things receive in government subsidies.
Building Tesla’s Future
Power lines for years were on poles until developed nations began to bury them. The United States is one of the few developed nations to keep them above ground, and solely for reasons of cost. Perhaps one day we can have Tesla’s wireless electricity, but the next best thing is to bury our utility lines.
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