The five main branches of civil engineering are widely recognized by most of us who choose a career in the field. We begin to develop an interest in one of such branches during the early college years after taking more specific classes or attending presentations of companies within this branch. Today, however, Isaac reveals how a particular presentation got him into an area that few people know of as a potential branch they can get into The Transmission World!
Transmission engineers are those who combine the knowledge from different fields, such as civil and electrical engineering and apply it to the planning and design of new routes of high-voltage power lines for delivering energy from sources to buildings and public spaces. By mentioning the different tasks to be completed once we’re assigned a project, from field surveying to power line design on PLS-CADD to drilling the poles’ foundations, Isaac details what a day in the life of a transmission engineer looks like — something he’s been involved with for the past 12 years!
As a transmission engineer, we can not apply civil engineering concepts to ensure the correct design and construction of the power lines’ foundations and structures, but we can also learn a lot from interacting with many different departments, from crew members building the project on the field to electrical engineers designing a substation. This is a must-listen for everyone since it lays out the many opportunities that can be found in between the common five branches everybody is used to.
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The University of Utah – https://www.utah.edu
PLS-CADD by Power Line Systems – https://www.powerlinesystems.com/plscadd
National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) – https://standards.ieee.org/products-services/nesc/index.html
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Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: What's going on, everybody? Isaac here with Civil Engineering Academy. I'm excited today because I want to talk about something that is personal to me. And that is what I do for a living. Actually, I've been doing it for the past 12 years or so. And that is what I do for my own career. So today we're going to be talking about a day in the life of a transmission engineer. Many people don't even know what this is within the industry of civil engineering, but I can promise you it's a great field to be in because -- Well, I'm in it. And maybe I'm biased, but I think it's a really good one. And I think you're going to enjoy it too. So anyway, having said that, this is going to be coming right up. We're going to talk about a day in the life of a transmission engineer. I think you're really going to enjoy it and I'll see you in a bit.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. So today we want to talk about a day in the life of a transmission engineer. Now, many of you are probably asking, what the heck is that? And I would agree with you if I didn't know what I was doing myself. Let's start at the beginning. So, when you get into civil engineering, you can usually dive into different branches of civil engineering. So you've got structural, you've got geo-tech, you've got transportation, water resources, or construction. Well, somewhere in there between structural, geo-tech, and construction, is also a discipline, and there's probably many others like this, but what I have found is transmission engineering. And the reason why I gravitated towards transmission engineering, which basically is working on high-voltage power lines in the utility industry. And the reason why I gravitated towards that is because I specifically remember in a senior design class that we had a presentation, I believe it was ECI, that came to the university of Utah. They did this big presentation of PLS-CADD, power line systems, computer automated drafting tools. Every industry seems to have its own version of CAD and to be a transmission engineer, PLS-CADD is kind of the tool to use. Anyway, they came and presented this tool and showed some cool graphics of some power lines coming down a mountain side. And I just thought it was cool. I don't know. It really resonated with me as something I wanted to do. At the time I was doing an internship. I had actually worked for utility industry. I bounced out of that. Went to work for a water resources company. And then when I had graduated school, bounced back into the utility industry and started my career in transmission engineering. I had actually started there as an intern doing transmission design work and then slowly grew from there.
Isaac Oakeson: And now, today, I actually don't do that. I project manage for utility and I also help run Civil Engineering Academy to try to help you guys become professional engineers, help you on your journey. But as part of this whole journey, I started transmission engineering. So what does that entail? When you dive into the world of transmission engineering, you're going to be dealing with things like structures, you're going to be dealing with things like wire and wire sizes, tensions and ampacity ratings, deflection limits, foundations, deflections of those foundations, rotation of those foundations, different foundation types that you could deal with. Putting this all together into a nice construction package that details plan and profiles, material specifications, and everything that you're going to be ordering on top of that. I could also detail switches that go onto structures. All this stuff gets involved in transmission engineering.
Isaac Oakeson: So I just wanted to back it up and we'll talk a little bit about it. But a day in the life of a transmission engineer. So typically, a transmission engineer, what you will get involved with is big transmission projects where you're designing high-voltage power lines, anywhere from like 34 KV up to 345 and 500 KV. In the US I don't know too many lines that are more than 500 KV. They're probably out there, but not too many. Typically most people are running 345 as kind of the max voltage that they're running on those lines. And depends on how long you run lines. You might even look at doing DC on those lines because it becomes more cost efficient at that point. Anyway, that's a side note.
Isaac Oakeson: So a day in the life of the transmission engineer. What you're going to do is, when you typically are assigned a project, what do you do? First thing you do is you get surveying done. And with today's technology, there's tons of LIDAR data you can send out. Go ahead on the ground with a LIDAR, the ability with equipment that does ground-based LIDAR, or they can go out and do point and shoot and gather points for you. Once you gather all of this data, and depends on what you're doing, you could be checking clearances to buildings, beause lines can go over buildings, or they are adjacent to buildings. You're checking clearances to ground on things, but you have to get survey shots of all that stuff so you can check it. So once you get all this data, once you get the survey done, you can bring it into this program called PLS-CADD. And PLS-CADD is kind of the go-to source for transmission line design. It also helps with distribution line design as well. But once you get all that data in, then you can start going to town. And you use what's called PLS-CADD again, and you can start laying out an alignment, and you have to create an alignment with different PI points, which are points of intersection. When you have two lines coming together, that point together, where those two meet is a PI. It becomes an angle point. And you can imagine that if you're bringing in two different lines in, you know, two different directions, you do get an angle on a structure. Now, depending on what that angle is, the loading can really change depending on the angle on that structure. So once you plot all this in PLS-CADD, you can really start taking shape of what that line's going to look like.
Isaac Oakeson: And in PLS-CADD, you also start designing structures and structure types, insulators that go on on the poles to help insulate it. You also deal with clearances, so you've got to size these structures the right way so that when you string wire on these lines, if you're operating that line at a certain temperature, let's say it's a very hot summer day --- We would check lines on a normal conductor, which is like ACSR. It's aluminum core steel reinforced conductor. You get to know all these different kinds of conductors. And when you run this stuff, you're checking it at a very hot temperature because on a very hot summer day, everybody's running their AC and everyone's going nuts with energy use. And because of that, the lines tend to sag and they want to go down. And they can sag quite a bit, depending on the conductor type that you're using.
Isaac Oakeson: There are new technologies, but most conductors typically ACSR, which is like an aluminum core and steel reinforced conductor. And they have different sizes. And the conductors that they use, they give bird names too. I don't know who came up with that, but they got bird names too. So 795 Drake or [Inaudible] and all kinds of fun stuff. So you get to deal with these different conductor types. Conductors have different line ratings to them, which is how much you can put through the line. And then after that, you can start getting into tensions. Tensions can be extremely high. So it's very dangerous for a crew member to get out there and start stringing this stuff and pulling it up at a certain tension because those tensions can be very, very high to keep the line up. You can also think about, when you're stringing this stuff up, that the tensions on the line, what they're doing to the towers, right? So if you have one of those point of intersections and one of them is like a 90-degree turn, right? You're going to have all that force trying to pull that tower over, which could be bad news.
Isaac Oakeson: All right, after you get all of that stuff going, you've got everything in your model, you've got a line route you've established pole locations, you've got conductor selected, you've routed your line. You then have to start working with Right-of-Way. And the Right-of-Way department helps to actually acquire the land that these lines are going to be on. And sometimes it can be quite a mess trying to deal with Right-of-Away, as many of you probably know if you're dealing with Right-of-Way issues in any industry. But if you have to go out and acquire land, that takes time and so that can be quite a challenge. A little bit out of your hands sometimes. Anyway, after you established that line route, you've got Right-of-Way for it, you can start piecing together more of the project. You're going to start developing a plan and profile that's clearly labeled and very nice to read plan a profile. So a plan view gives you an overhead view of the alignment and the route, you know? You'll look at it from the top. And a profile view shows each structure location, and you deal with stationing. So you can look at the station of each structure and determine how long your line is. And these lines can be miles and miles long. It depends on what you're building. And it can be for customers or it could be for the utility itself. So it really just depends.
Isaac Oakeson: So after you've got all this information into the PLS-CADD, and you've developed a very nice plan and profile, you can start ordering material for the line that you've designed. And after that, then you can start piecing together all of this work and do a construction package that you can eventually hand over to a crew or to a project manager, and they can go out and build this line. And there's nothing more satisfactory than seeing something that you designed and see it built in the field. Now, sometimes you deal with a lot of issues and this happens with every engineering discipline. But something you design on a computer, sometimes doesn't always translate well in the real world and have to go see stuff. See what's in the way, you know? Sometimes if you're drilling a foundation, you might have some other utilities in the way, and that's "no bueno". So it really just kind of depends on -- You know, you have to do your homework before you start building these things, and it's helpful to always go out into the field and see what you've got built out there. And when they do some construction staking, go see where your poles are landing to make sure that what was on your screen translates well into the real world and make sure there's no issues there.
Isaac Oakeson: So, that's another thing that kind of comes up as you dive into this world of transmission engineering. And I have found it to be very satisfactory. Like I said, there's nothing better to see something that you designed on a computer screen to be built out in the real world and have it operational and working well. And that's just kind of fun. So as part of my own journey, I've been able to design everything. Like I said, from 34 up to 345 KV. I've had towers as tall as 196 feet. Foundations as deep as, I believe, 60 feet deep and 12, 14 inches in diameter. These things get huge. I've looked down holes that it looks like you're drilling to China. It's just huge, huge hole. So, you know, those things are kind of fun to observe and watch. You get involved in concrete, because you've got to deal with that with your foundations. I've dealt with vibratory caissons, so you can drill those into the ground. They use a hydraulic hammer at the end of either a crane or a piece of equipment. And you can jack these, basically a pipe, into the ground and bolt the tower onto it, onto the top of it, which is kind of fun to do too because they can be really slick or they can be be quite a pain depending on what they hit in the earth.
Isaac Oakeson: So, what else am I missing? I think with that, you know, once you get the construction package done, sometimes these projects just never end, because once they get out in the field and we start building it, then you have to really do a lot of support there as well. And that can include answering questions -- Oh, I forgot another big piece of the pie here. It's that when you actually purchase material for a four-year project. They can be steel poles, they can be wood poles, they can be fiberglass poles now. They can be concrete spun poles. There's just a lot of different options you can go with these days. Typically most lines are steel, or they're wood. Wood is much cheaper than steel. If you go steel, you submit all the loads and everything to a steel manufacturer and they come back with some prints and then you have to go through those prints and really QA everything that's on there. Does that meet the right criteria? The thickness ratios. You don't want a pole that looks like a beer can, you know? You know what I'm talking about. You want a nice taper to the pole. You want a certain thickness to the pole. You don't want poles that are super huge at the base because these things aren't going to fit everywhere. And sometimes you've got to put them in park strips, things of that nature. So there's a lot of things to consider when you're ordering steel poles and they range depending on where your alignment is going and what you're dealing with there. So a lot of things to consider there.
Isaac Oakeson: Another thing is you have to produce what's called stringing charts. So you have to determine how much tension the conductor should have when they're pulling it in. And then over time that conductor will slowly sag. It's called creep. And so you pull it in at a certain tension over time that wire creeps, and then that's really what you're checking clearances to when the temperatures go up and up and the line's creeping. So you check that that line will sag down and you have to check that line's clearance to rooftops or the roadway. And the code that's really in the industry here is the NESC code. And the code defines what the loading criteria is on your structures, helps defined what clearances that you should be having, and a lot of other things that you deal with in transmission engineering. So the NESC code is really a heavy one that you use. There are other codes as well that help detail steel design. But when you're in the transmission world, that NESC code is really kind of the one to look at. And you also deal with OSHA clearances too, because people that are building stuff next to your lines, they can't be so close to your lines that it's going to cause problems. I know everybody's seen YouTube videos of people in foreign countries standing on these wires, and they're out in the middle of nowhere. And those are large-voltage lines, probably 700 KV+. And what you can do is you can bundle this conductor up into a spacer cable. And you can bundle that and it holds more ampacity when you run electricity through that line. So it doesn't have to be just one conductor. It could be like five and they're all bundled together.
Isaac Oakeson: So those are some fun things to consider too. So like I said, you can have small projects, but you could go into these huge projects dealing with lattice towers and building lines across the country. It's really kind of an exciting field to be in. So I'm curious, what do you guys think of transmission engineering? Have you ever heard of it before? I'd love to know. You should shoot me an email, [email protected] Let me know if you've ever heard of that. The other thing that I have found very nice about working for utility, or being in the transmission world, is that transmission engineers typically do pretty well. For an engineer, I would say they're on the higher end of things, because it's just such a niche field to be in. So if you're still considering what you should do in civil engineering, I would throw that in as a suggestion to go check that out. You know, I didn't really detail what happens after you IFC, or you Issue for Construction, a project. You get a book ready to go for a crew to go out and build. And sometimes you continue to support that job, even after it's been done. So you're required to sometimes go walk that line or go inspect it sometimes. I know at the company I'm in, we do what's called post-construction LIDAR even. But that just means that we fly the line again with LIDAR and we can check clearances again, because there are other federal agencies that want to make sure that the line that you built actually meets clearances and codes, okay? So it's kind of a gift that keeps on giving the projects that you get.
Isaac Oakeson: Guys, hopefully that was enlightening to you. That was just a real brief glimpse into what a transmission engineer does. You interact with a lot of different departments as well within that, you know? You could be detailing stuff in the civil department. You could be working with Right-of-Way. You've got some electrical stuff there, so you're dealing with planners, with ampacities, you're working with a substation group that is designing stuff for a substation as well. You're working with crew members that are out on the field building this stuff, making sure you're answering their questions, solving problems that come up all the time. And that's just probably a small glimpse of what a day in the life of a transmission engineer is. So lots of little moving pieces there.
Isaac Oakeson: If you have any questions about being a transmission engineer, feel free to hit me up. I just wanted to describe what I've done in the past. Right now I've been a project manager for quite some time. For the last two years, actually, I think, and help to manage a lot of engineering firms that do a lot of engineering work. So that's fun too. Anyway, hopefully this gave you some insight into what a transmission engineer does. Like I said, if you have any questions feel free to email me and let me know. And if you need help with anything else civil-related, especially as you are trying to become a professional engineer, check out civilengineeringacademy.com. Go check out all the resources we have there for you. We are there to help you on your own journey to become a professional engineer.
Isaac Oakeson: All right, guys. That's going to wrap it up. Thanks for joining me. See you in the next one. Bye!
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