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The transmission tower industry thrives through innovation and sustainability

June 30, 2023 11:56 am

The transmission tower industry thrives through innovation and sustainability
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This article briefly discusses the advanced transmission tower designs for efficiency and sustainability, utilising sustainable materials, prefabrication, modularisation, and digitisation for improved performance and environmental impact.

Powered by multiple sectors, India has become the fifth-largest economy, thereby succeeding some of the major countries in the world. As a result, various sectors have emerged as key contributors, such as renewable energy, e-commerce, and the transmission and distribution (T&D) sector. The T&D sector has seen major growth in the last few years, attributed to budgetary allocations, private investments, and policy initiatives such as National Infrastructure Pipeline (NIP) and ‘Make in India’. Additionally, the government is strongly emphasising the sector’s growth by creating a conducive environment through measures such as easing regulations, promoting competition, and providing incentives for investments.

As part of the 2023-24 budget, an interstate transmission system has been proposed for the grid integration of 13 GW of renewable energy. Additionally, there have been discussions about laying underground transmission lines to protect the environment. A report titled “Transmission System for Integration of Over 500 GW RE Capacity by 2030, has been published by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), outlining a plan for a transmission system that can accommodate around 537 GW of renewable energy capacity in key zones.

Given the increased attention paid to the transmission sector, the significance of critical infrastructure in this space, particularly lines, cables, and towers, has become even more paramount. As a result, the transmission tower manufacturers will need to continue to innovate, develop new technologies, and abide by emerging trends, some of which are as follows: 

Advancing cable technology: Over the years, cable design has evolved. Dry extruded cables are replacing wet, paper-insulated ones. Covered cables like XLPE, high-density polyethene, aerial bunched cables, and spacer cable systems are popular for their safety benefits. New cable types, such as e-beam cables and gas-insulated transmission lines, are emerging and can be used in high-temperature solar, railway, and shipping applications.

Another emerging category is solar cables, designed to evacuate solar energy from PV modules and connect individual modules with the string combiner box. The transmission and distribution sector has been a key focus area for the government, with high-voltage transmission lines being developed to achieve round-the-clock power. Advancements in cables and conductors, along with technologies like flexible alternating current transmission systems (FACTS) and high-voltage direct current (HVDC), can help achieve a seamless high-voltage power transmission system.

Developing tower designs: Transmission tower designs have significantly improved in recent years, resulting in reduced right-of-way (RoW) requirements, minimised the visual impact, faster execution, and ease of installation. For example, Guyed towers occupy less area; hence, they can provide significant cost savings where space and topography are not an issue. It requires less engineering, material, and fabrication than a freestanding design. Lattice towers with triangular or square cross-sections are commonly used for high-voltage transmission lines, while tubular steel towers are often used for lower-voltage lines.

Companies have also upgraded tower foundation designs through multicircuit-multivoltage solutions, wherein the line is upgraded with more than one voltage circuit on the same tower. The line capacity is increased for voltage upgrades by changing the system voltage from a lower to a higher value in the same available corridor. This increases line capacity and power transfer capacity by over four times. To prepare for natural disasters, such as emergency restoration system towers, utilities should adopt tower designs that can withstand extreme weather conditions. In disaster-prone areas, monopoles with smaller spans may work.

Sustainability and Environmental Impact: There is a growing emphasis on minimising the environmental impact of transmission tower manufacturing as it involves using large amounts of energy and raw materials. This can be achieved by using sustainable materials, such as recycled steel with non-toxic coatings and finishes and composites made from renewable resources. Additionally, investing in energy-efficient technologies and processes, such as using renewable energy sources like solar and wind power to power the facilities and low-emission transport options, also creates an impact.

Prefabrication and modularisation: These processes are becoming increasingly popular as they offer a range of benefits, including improved quality control, faster installation, and reduced costs with an environmentally friendly approach. It enables more controlled manufacturing conditions, improving the final product’s quality. Quality control measures can be implemented at each stage of the manufacturing process, ensuring that each component meets the required standards.

Prefabricated and modular components can be quickly assembled on-site, reducing installation time and minimising the need for specialised equipment and skilled labour. This can lead to significant cost savings and reduced downtime. Additionally, these components can be easily adapted to meet specific project requirements. This enables greater flexibility in design and installation, as components can be easily customised to fit the needs of each project.

Digitisation and Data Analytics: Digitisation and data analytics are being used to improve transmission tower design, operation, and construction. This includes using advanced software and simulations to optimise tower design and predict performance and sensors and data analysis to monitor tower health and detect potential issues.

Additionally, advanced sensors can be installed to collect data on key metrics such as temperature, humidity, and vibration. This data can be analysed using machine learning algorithms to identify patterns and trends, helping companies optimise operations and maintenance activities. Data analytics can also be used to predict maintenance requirements, allowing companies to take proactive measures before equipment fails, thereby reducing downtime and improving asset life.

The rise of advanced materials

The use of advanced materials is one of the notable trends revolutionising the transmission tower manufacturing industry. Moreover, traditional steel towers are eventually replaced by lightweight yet resilient composite materials such as carbon fibre-reinforced polymer (CFRP) and glass fibre-reinforced polymer (GFRP). These composites offer superior strength-to-weight ratios, exceptional corrosion resistance, and reduced maintenance requirements. Additionally, their modular design enables easy transportation and installation, making them an attractive alternative to traditional towers.

Overall, the future of transmission towers is expected to be shaped by advancements in materials, designs, and technology, focusing on improving efficiency, reliability, and sustainability. As electricity demand continues to grow, transmission towers will remain a critical component of the power grid, and innovation in this area will continue to be a key driver of progress in the energy sector. 

Expertise shared by: Sharan Bansal, Director, Skipper Limited.

For more details visit: https://www.skipperlimited.com/

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