Utilities Have A “Smart” Solution To Prevent Copper Theft
With the price of copper skyrocketing to more than $4 a pound, it’s safe to say there is value in obtaining and selling scrap copper. Having traveled throughout the country, I have heard countless horror stories from many utilities about how thieves are stealing copper wires, costing tens of thousands of dollars. It’s clear that no matter where you are, copper theft is on the rise and electric utilities have an extremely dangerous problem on their hands.
In a January 2009 survey conducted by the Electrical Safety Foundation International, it reported that 95% of electric utilities have been victims of copper theft. The problem is epidemic and it’s not just happening to utilities.
Bloomberg Business Week featured a cover story entitled, “The Great Copper Heist.” It reported that thieves have hit cell towers, airport control towers, irrigation systems, storm sirens and rail lines owned by Union Pacific and Amtrak. Thieves have also put utility workers in harm’s way (risk of electrocution) and subjected communities to substantial losses because of power outages.
What amazes me is that copper theft at utilities is an unnecessary problem. Copper grounding wire and cable has been used for many decades on poles and in substations, but solid copper is not the best use for this grounding (bonding) application. There is a simple, lower cost, copper replaceable solution—Copper Clad Steel (CCS). Since lightning or short circuit conditions carry a high current for such a short time, only the ground wire’s outer skin is used to carry most of the current. Why “waste” the inside diameter of solid copper wires with this precious and expensive metal?
Some utilities got smart years ago and began using CCS on their poles and substations (below and above grade). Socorro Electric Cooperative in Socorro, NM is a recent example of one such utility that made the change. Even some wind farm owners and contractors evaluated the electrical characteristics and costs, causing them to convert from solid copper ground cable to CCS for grounding their collector lines on the farms.
CommScope’s GroundSmart™ solution can replace nearly all copper wire and cable used for grounding in electric utility applications, pole lighting and other industrial applications. Theft impacts safety, reliability and operational costs. GroundSmart CCS is a viable and cost-effective solution for utilities to combat theft and keep their systems up and running.