Transmission Economics

By: Andy Odorzynski, Induron National Sales Manager

This week it was announced that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued new guidelines on how the power grid must be scaled aggressively to accommodate the demands of the future. This new guidance should ensure funding is available to connect green energy sources, like wind and solar to the grid, thus ensuring that power can be transferred from the regions where it can be efficiently generated to the point of demand.  However, these actions fail to address one major gap in all of our future models of the grid: the decay of what we already have. 

All our models for scaling up the grid to future demand assume we will have full access to the grid we’ve already built. Neither the funding nor the industrial capacity exist to replace the existing grid AND build the new lines required. It is vitally important to explore the economics of preserving the existing grid as a major part of what we plan for the future. 

The power of the right protective coatings

The coating selection made by utilities with existing transmission structure plays an absolutely pivotal role in actually delivering the energy plans we are making for the future. As an example, I’d like to illustrate some real programs in place. It is useful to contrast two models: the Australian model for tower preservation, versus the Induron process used throughout North and South America. 

The Australian model for tower preservation

First, let’s detail how things are done in Australia. Much like we coat a water tower exterior in the United States, Australian transmission structures are generally contained in order to keep all debris at the job site. This is necessary because the towers are first pressure washed and then sandblasted. The blasted tower is then coated with a 2-3 coat, spray applied paint system. The utilization of containment, pressure washing, blasting and spraying requires de-energizing the tower. For purposes of this analysis, I will ignore the cost associated with this de-energization, though as any Utility professional will tell you, it is a massive cost. 

What does the painting process above cost an Australian utility? Well, one utility was able to share that they employ around 130 full-time painters doing nothing but coating and preserving transmission structures. With this crew of 130 workers, they are able to coat roughly 200 towers per year, at a cost of roughly $26,000,000USD per year or $130,000 USD per tower. This particular utility has roughly 8,000 transmission structures. Meaning at this pace of work and spending,  it will take approximately 40 years to coat all the structures in their current portfolio. This simply isn’t fast enough! 

The utility will lose structures before they can get to them unless they can shrink this cycle to around 20 years. But how can they double their pace of production? Even if they are willing and able to double the funding (a process, and a challenge, to be sure), they can’t have that many lines out of service at one time. They must find another way if they are to deliver on the energy demands of the (near) future. 

The Induron process 

By exploring Induron’s model, we can illustrate the power of selecting the right coating. Because Induraguard 9200 does not require pressure washing or sandblasting, it does not require the installation of containment. Eliminating these cost drivers has a massive impact! We no longer need to de-energize the structure, and the pace of work increases dramatically. We have eliminated multiple climbs for the workforce. Not only is this faster, the fewer times we ask an individual to climb, the safer our project becomes. 


By changing the scope of work so dramatically, the same workforce is able to deliver thousands of towers per year. It is no stretch to say that were the Australian utilities to adopt the Induron method, they would easily shrink their maintenance cycles below 20 years and spend less to do it. 

Tower coating costs are dependent on size, current condition, and location, but a comparable average to the $130,000 presented above would be around $40,000 per tower in the Induron model. This is not conjecture – we’ve delivered this process throughout the United States, Canada, and South America for decades. 

 While we are proud of the amazing work we have done with our utility partners, it is noteworthy that less than 10% of the Investor-Owned Utilities in the United States have tower painting programs. Most of the grid is being “operated to failure” with the plan of replacing structures, rather than preserving them. 

We are working with utilities throughout the world to help build corrosion management programs that will realistically allow them to preserve what they have at the right pace so that they have something to connect all these expansion projects to upon completion. Recent changes to the FERC capitalization rules have made this the perfect time to start. We’re always looking for another opportunity to help preserve what we already have. After all, what’s greener than that?


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