Hardening the Grid by Changing System Design, Not Utility Pole Sizes

As most industry professionals know, the commonly used term “grid hardening” refers to the multitude of actions utilities are undertaking today to better ensure reliable power sources continue to exist for their customers. One of these actions is an increasing preference among utilities to use larger diameter (or “class”) wood utility poles as a means of strengthening their grid network.


While there’s little argument that the impact of climate change and the growing use of pole attachments (e.g., broadband, cellular, etc.) both point to the need for utilities to make changes to harden their overall systems, debate remains on whether the increased use of larger diameter utility poles is the right approach to achieve this goal.


One overriding factor for consideration is simply the availability of larger diameter trees that can be readily harvested for use as utility poles.  Most of the timber harvesting done today is for the benefit of other industries, with only 5-10% of the trees within a typical managed forest meeting the specifications required for utility poles. This percentage declines even further when additional limitations are put in place such as harvesting only those trees with larger diameters. Collectively a movement towards larger diameter poles can have a significant impact on both the resiliency of the forest supply chain and on utility pole costs.


A viable alternative to using larger diameter utility poles is to instead change the engineering design of the grid itself. By reducing the span length between poles and relying on the use of more but smaller diameter poles to carry loads, utilities can achieve the same overall goals associated with grid hardening. Designing overhead lines which use readily available utility pole sizes applied across shorter spans better ensures a sustainable and less costly supply of poles for generations to come. For more information on this topic we encourage you to download North American Wood Pole Council’s white paper, Sustainable Wood Pole Design For Overhead Systems.