Getting the power back on faster with Eversource’s ‘rapid pole’ technology
Tim McHugh, Eversource New Hampshire manager of electric service and troubleshooters, explains the rapid pole technology he developed – essentially a mobile pole that can provide power as crews work to address outages. (Hadley Barndollar | New Hampshire Bulletin)
The first time Eversource used its new “rapid pole” technology, it was the Christmas 2022 storm and New Hampshire had 200 broken poles around the state. At one point, 80,000 electric customers were in the dark, with long-duration outages anticipated.
The temporary mobile pole technology proved its worth during the multi-day ordeal, helping crews to restore power in half the time. At that point, there was only one rapid pole for use – the prototype. But soon, Eversource will distribute 17 throughout its service areas in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
New Hampshire will receive seven, to be stationed at work centers around the state.
“These are tools to get the lights on as quickly as we can and as safely as we can for our customers and for public safety reasons,” said Tim McHugh, electric service manager for Eversource, who developed the rapid pole technology.
While crews work to restore power during outages, the rapid pole can be deployed to provide temporary power to impacted customers. McHugh said it’s equivalent to a 55-foot pole in the ground, and it can be set up within 10 minutes.
“Every broken pole we get right now, we are rolling this out in New Hampshire,” he said.
Shortening the length of power outages has always been the goal for utility companies. But McHugh noted the need grew more pressing when COVID-19 prompted more people to work from home.
“I always say power outages went from a nuisance to having an economic impact for our customers,” he said. “We had to do something to restore quicker than what we were doing.”
And with extreme heat in the summer on the rise, shortening outages to assure customers can keep air conditioners and fans running is critical.
The idea actually started with a heat wave about three years ago. Approximately 400 Eversource customers in Milford lost power due to a damaged pole, with an estimated restoration time of 15 hours. As a work-around, crews built a temporary pole, used high-voltage cables, and brought in a generator.
It was an off-the-cuff innovation that got real-time results. Over the last few years, Eversource has been working with a Department of Defense-contracted facility in Indiana to design and manufacture the pole for wider distribution.
Recently recognized with an award from the Association of Edison Illuminating Companies, the rapid pole technology is attached to a tactical trailer that can be transported around the state as needed. The pole is a battery-operated hydraulic unit, feeding high-voltage power back into the system.
McHugh believes Eversource is pioneering on this front.
“We’re able to pick up as many customers as we can while that (restoration) work is being done,” he said.
Addressing outages and grid resiliency is the aim of nearly $7 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds recently awarded to the state’s Department of Energy. The money will be used to disburse grants to electric utilities to complete improvements to their distribution systems that reduce the frequency and duration of outages.
Department of Energy Deputy Commissioner Chris Ellms previously told New Hampshire Public Radio the goal of the funding is to advance projects that go beyond a utility’s current resilience planning. Bad weather and aging infrastructure, he said, can be mitigated by more investment in resilience.
All of Eversource’s troubleshooters in New Hampshire and Connecticut, employees who primarily respond to emergencies and outage events, have been trained on the technology.
Eversource is also deploying a second unit that isn’t getting as much attention as the rapid pole: a mobile transformer with a primary riser that can take on more customers than the pole. McHugh said they’re using both solutions based on outage needs.
In March, crews deployed the rapid pole to temporarily bring power to 700 customers in Laconia after a driver crashed into a utility pole. That same month, the utility used the mobile transformer in Sullivan to restore power to hundreds after heavy, wet snow brought down multiple large trees onto power lines.
In April, the mobile transformer was used during a planned outage in Tilton, bringing the outage time down from four hours to five minutes.
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