Steel’s profile as a green material has led to growing interest in replacing aging wood electric utility distribution poles with poles made of steel. A detailed life cycle assessment study published in 2013 finds that replacing wood utility poles with galvanized steel utility poles results in several significant environmental benefits, including lower levels of greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions associated with global climate change; a lower burden on critical energy resources; reduced impacts on the habitats of many threatened and endangered species; and reduced impacts associated with hazardous emissions and wastes.
These findings provide data that contradict the traditional wood industry claims of being a superior sustainable material. Steel utility distribution poles have a number of clear advantages over competing materials (treated wood and concrete). These include ease of installation, reliability, durability, life cycle cost and environmental considerations. There are approximately 185 million utility distribution poles in North America. An estimated 2.5 million wood poles are replaced annually.
Since 1998, close to one million steel distribution poles have been installed and are now being used by over 600 of 3,100 U.S. electric utilities. Here are some reasons why they made the switch:
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Steel poles weigh 50-70% less than comparable wood structures making them easier and less expensive to handle and install.