President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had more than the economic woes of the Great Depression on his mind on May 11, 1935, when he signed Executive Order 7037 which created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA).
That day, the president aimed to take the first steps toward rectifying the dearth of electricity in the country’s rural areas that threatened to further isolate American farmers from their urban counterparts whose lives were underscored by the benefits of living close to power generation.
A year earlier in 1934, less than 11% of US farms had electricity. By comparison, nearly 90% of farms in France and Germany were electrified. The costs of bringing electricity from its generation source near America’s blossoming cities to its rural spreads were prohibitive.
Something had to be done, so the president turned to a mechanical engineer with a reputation for applying scientific management to systems engineering.
Morris Llewellyn Cooke was appointed as the REA’s first administrator. The then-sixty-three-year-old had convinced the president he was the man for the job when he presented a detailed plan for electrifying the nation’s rural regions with efficient production of power distribution systems.
The engineer’s plan worked.
Hayti, Missouri. Checking electric meters at the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration (REA) cooperative headquarters. Source: Public Domain/Library of Congress
Within two years, the REA helped bring electricity to more than 1.5 million farms through 350 rural cooperatives in 45 of the then-48 states. By 1939, the cost of a mile of rural distribution power line had dropped from $2,000 to $600. Almost half of all American farms were wired for electricity by 1942 and virtually all of them were electrified by the 1950s.
Greene County, Gerorgia. Tenant farmer’s house showing REA electric meter on wall.
Source: Public Domain/Library of Congress
Dunklin County, Missouri. Farm boy using welding equipment on a farm that receives U.S. Rural Electrification Administration (REA) power Source: Public Domain/Library of Congress
Fast forward some 90-plus years and the country again is staring at a future of electrification, though not just in certain geographic areas.
In 2023, America appears poised to electrify everything.
Again, the country is turning to engineers to foster a path forward. But this time, electrification in the US will take more than a single principle applied, improved, and scaled.
That’s because electrification itself is already happening on a massive scale. Consumer adoption of electric vehicles may get the lion’s share of the national headlines, but it’s just a piece of the electrification pie.
Other slices of the electrification movement include heaping doses of commercial fleets–utility trucks, Amazon, and other delivery trucks, as well as school buses.
Piling onto the electrification movement is large-scale industrial electrification, which involves airports, seaports, and manufacturing facilities shifting most if not all of their processes to ones that require electric fuel sources.
All of this electrification taking place seemingly everywhere around us is driving significant change on the grid’s physical infrastructure, particularly on the distribution side where customer-sited distributed energy resources are altering the way electricity is generated and distributed on the grid.
Engineering firms seeking to evaluate and design overhead construction to accommodate increased electrification on the grid have their work cut out for them.
That’s because–as we’ve explored in a previous IKE Wire article on workforce shortages in the energy industry–there is a LOT of work to be done, not enough qualified personnel to do it, and the clock is ticking.
Engineering firms, in turn, are looking to technology and software solutions that use automation to make workflows more efficient, productive, and safe.
The grid’s infrastructure is being asked to accommodate more than just electrification.
It’s also in the process of modernizing to become more sustainable while at the same time serving as the physical network by which broadband internet reaches the more than 30 million Americans who currently do not have it.
The Federal government recognizes the importance of grid modernization and broadband expansion and has enacted legislation (Inflation Reduction Act, Infrastructure & Jobs Act, et al.) that provides significant funding to facilitate both critical efforts.
Welcome and useful as it is, that funding is accelerating the amount of make-ready engineering, field data acquisition and assessment, and pole load analysis to be done by engineering firms to evolve the grid’s infrastructure.
Enter technology and software that help with these jobs by improving workflow and productivity through automation, standardization, and ease of collaboration.
For many engineering firms, being technology agnostic is an industry prerequisite. Firms must possess, for example, whatever pole-loading analysis software their utility clients prefer. That is, they can’t be all-in on any single solution or platform if it’s not compatible with what their utility clients require.
Here is where a collaborative, cloud-based field data acquisition and analysis system such as the IKE Device and IKE Office Pro proves its value for engineering firms providing grid services with communications companies, electric utilities, or both.
Data acquired with the IKE Device is standardized and not prone to human error the way more traditional methods of field data acquisition can be. Once the data is uploaded to IKE Office Pro, it’s in a cloud-based platform that can be accessed by all parties participating in the project.
When the project is complete, the data can live permanently in the Office Pro platform or it can then be easily exported to formats compatible with geographic information systems (GIS) and other key systems utilities and communications companies rely on in order to maintain their networks.
The US electric grid is set to evolve to serve the needs of our changing nation in ways we haven’t seen in nearly a century. Unlike Morris Llewellyn Cooke in 1935, today’s engineers have digital tools at their disposal to get this critical work done.
Good thing, too. Because there is a lot of engineering work to be done, time is short, and the county is counting on it being done right.