The installation of power conduits is a major but relatively unknown expense in the world. There are two different ways that these power lines can be installed. Above ground or below. As of now, most cities are using primarily or entirely above ground power lines, because simply put, they’re cheaper. It costs about eight times more to install the power lines below ground compared to above.
In 2008, hurricane Ike hit Texas, and caused an estimated 22 billion dollars in damage in Houston and Galveston alone, much of which was power related. The cost to replace all of the destroyed power lines in Houston using improved above ground structures was estimated to cost 800 million dollars which, compared to the daunting 4 billion dollars it was estimated to cost if they went underground, is a pretty appealing sum.
But the problem with cities continuing to use the less expensive option is that it costs more in the long term. In 2014, Toronto was faced with an estimated 106 million dollar clean-up bill after a devastating ice storm. More than 300,000 Toronto hydro customers were left without electricity for up to a week. It is estimated that it would cost 15 billion dollars to move Toronto’s 15,000 kilometers of power lines underground. However, if they had been underground in the first place, the entire ordeal would have been avoided much the same as Houston.
Right now the cheapest way to install below ground power lines is called open trenching. Where companies dig into the earth, make a trench and lay wires. Then they go back and refill the trench that they dug. This process reroutes traffic and disrupts the neighbourhood temporarily.
There is also a less invasive, more expensive option called directional drilling. Installers can place a wire through a carefully plotted, kilometers-long underground tunnel that does not disrupt street-level activities. This is limited by the length of the drill and it also requires multiple passes with different drill heads.
These are all solutions to our problem. Most of these solutions are very unrealistic.
- controlled explosives that blow up a tunnel that you can then place the wire in.
- domesticate an army of moles to dig the tunnels that the wires go into.
- a machine that digs and feeds a wire through the tunnel behind it.
- invent a shrink ray so that people can dig the tunnels with tiny shovels
- invent a grow ray so that people dig the trenches in one fell swoop.
- blast energy through the air instead of going through wires at all.
- put a lot of batteries in a truck and then deliver the batteries to people so you do not have to install wires at all.
- make a shovel robot to dig the trenches to make the process faster
Our solution is a robot that digs tunnels and brings the powerline in behind it. We have dubbed our robot the M0L3.
- How it works
You would think that the M0L3 would have a drill to dig ahead of it but no, our machine looks like a robotic mole. It has outurned claws for scooping the dirt behind it. Every so often the M0L3 will have to come up to get rid of the excess dirt. As the M0L3 digs, it brings the power line into the tunnel behind it. The M0L3 is remote controlled and can navigate around obstacles. It uses a sort of seismic location (or echolocation) to sense objects under the ground so that it will not hit anything.
2. How it can help
Our solution to this major problem can help because after the initial purchase of the M0L3, there are no additional costs other than maintenance, and so it will cost less in the long run. Also, it is much more efficient because instead of a team of people working for days digging a trench, placing in the power line, then refilling the hole, only a couple of engineers are needed to be there to control the machine and make sure it works properly. Another way that it will cost less is the significantly lower number of man hours needed. With less people working for less time, the overall cost diminishes.
3. Drawbacks/negatives/“things to consider”
There are however some drawbacks that must be considered when using this solution. Firstly, this is an idea, so we don’t have physical evidence that our machine will work. There would most likely be problems when it encounters larger rocks or roots, as there is no way for it to get through. Perhaps a drill would need to be added to the front for it to work. There is the initial cost to consider which would probably be a rather large sum of money, as well as the fact that as the manufacturer, we would need to purchase a factory to build the robots and find out which materials to use. Finally, each city would probably need more than one as they can only be in one place at a time.
- Include media that illustrates the solution
These are renders of the 3d model that Simon created to show our vision of the M0L3.
I believe that the product that we came up with is a unique and possibly realistic idea that could be used as a guideline for a real life prototype. If it was constructed, I think that our idea would actually provide a (at least partial) solution to the problem we found and would decrease the cost, time and effort needed in order to install underground power lines. There are however problems with our idea, as mentioned above, it would encounter difficulty when it reaches particularly large rocks or roots that it wouldn’t be able to simply dig out of the way, and would need another element in order to drill through them. In addition to this, the manufacturing and purchase costs would probably be very high.
The process that we went through in order to complete this assignment went without any major hiccups. I feel that Simon and I worked well together and completed the assignment using our time wisely. It was overall a fun project to do. It took us a while to find the perfect problem to attempt to solve, and we went through other somewhat more broad ideas such as something to do with geothermal energy in Iceland, or something to do with nuclear power and its drawbacks. Once we did find our topic, however, I believe that we had a good time doing valid research and finding out everything there is to know about installing underground power lines. Once we reached the discovery phase of the project, we found other cases of people attempting to solve the problem of power lines with things such as reinforced aboveground power poles, and the consequences of cities not using below ground power lines including all the money that needed to be spent to replace the aboveground ones. We spent a reasonable amount of time on this stage of the process and think that it was well done. I think that the dream phase is where I can start to make a more critical examination of my work. If I’m being honest, I didn’t think of many solutions to our problem and was pretty stumped. This is the part where Simon really shined and came up with our main idea as well as some… interesting other ones. In the delivery stage, I think that at the start our format for presenting our idea wasn’t the most creative although it is in-depth, but then Simon came up with the idea of making a 3D model of the robot which I believe is probably the most “appropriate” way that we could have presented our idea. I think that making the 3D model was a risk because it is not only out of the ordinary but also could have easily not worked. Also, i do believe that it demonstrates our proposal in a very clear fashion. Finally, I am proud of this debrief that I made because I believe it goes in-depth into what we accomplished and how, and completely and critically examines our work.
- Administrator. “Undergrounding Utility Wires.” The Truth About Billboards | Scenic America, www.scenic.org/issues/undergrounding-utility-wires.
- Cummins, Eleanor. “Why Don’t We Put Power Lines Underground?” Popular Science, 6 June 2018, www.popsci.com/why-dont-we-put-power-lines-underground.
- “Horizontal Directional Drilling Installation Animation.” YouTube, YouTube, 20 June 2014, youtu.be/mdLCD6t6C-w.
- Lupton, Andrew. “Ice Storm Fallout: Can’t Power Lines Go Underground? | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 9 Jan. 2014, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ice-storm-fallout-can-t-power-lines-go-underground-1.2490392.
- Simon, Darran. “Isn’t It Better to Just Bury Power Lines? That May Depend on Where You Live.” CNN, Cable News Network, 14 Sept. 2017, www.cnn.com/2017/09/14/us/underground-power-lines-trnd/index.html.
- Gale engaged learning. “Mika, Eric. “A Robotic Cable Crawler.” Popular Science, June 2007, p. 48. Canada in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A163685222/GPS?u=43riss&sid=GPS&xid=390d399b. Accessed 4 Dec. 2018.
- “EDITORIAL: Plan to sustain power during hurricanes needed.” Victoria Advocate [Victoria, TX], 23 Sept. 2008. Canada in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A185433954/GPS?u=43riss&sid=GPS&xid=481f0e75. Accessed 4 Dec. 2018