Renew-utilities: Updating Utility Infrastructure for Emerging Technology

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Evan Mowbray

Renew-utilities: Updating Utility Infrastructure for Emerging Technology

Utility infrastructure is consistently updated as new construction takes place and adjustments are needed to accommodate that construction. This kind of utility adjustment often requires locating and relocating existing utilities. In other words, it takes some planning to prepare for the future. In order to innovate and enhance what already exists, we need to acknowledge the current state of our infrastructure. Our current infrastructure often needs to change to accommodate future utility systems, and this is most evident in renewable technology, covering everything from electric car charging stations to solar energy panels.

Let’s start with solar energy. These grid-like panels are often located in large, open areas that connect to existing power grids. The sun is necessary to produce power and these panels need to be optimally positioned to ensure that they get the most use. The openness of the land they occupy may understate what’s under the surface, however. Utilities are often thought to be existing only within congested areas, but utility infrastructure is everywhere. There are estimated to be over 20 million miles of underground utility lines underground, and some of it passes under lands you wouldn’t think to look under. 

On one job our Trinity team recently worked on, we mapped out the gas and water lines for a house and a barn about an acre away from the property, only to find that both lines ran under a dirt path through the woods between the two structures. The utility connections between two points can be unexpected if you don’t think about the connections. Understanding that these systems require connections to existing systems is often one of the most overlooked aspects of utility infrastructure. When it comes to installing solar panels, connecting into existing infrastructure is a necessary step and understanding what’s already underneath the install location is important.

An image of a Trinity Subsurface technician putting in water and gas utility flags over a utility markout at a residential property.

Electric car chargers are a similar story. This form of powering your future vehicles may still be in the small stages, but is seeing significant growth. Hybrid cars are gaining popularity for having both electric and gas options, and electric-only cars are starting to see more usage. Gas stations and convenience stores throughout the United States are heavily investing in installing fast charging stations to fuel up. Parking garages are adopting similar technology for people looking to charge while they park. With these installs, there are different challenges depending on where the installation is taking place. EV charging stations can often be found in both parking lots and parking garages. For parking lots, this often requires installers to make sure that they don’t come into conflict with sewer and lighting utilities. For gas station parking lots, there are also gas lines to worry about: striking a gas utility structure could be potentially dangerous, costly, and environmentally damaging in the exact opposite way that EV chargers are supposed to mitigate. 

An image of a Trinity Subsurface utility locator standing in a parking garage covered in utility markings.

For parking garages, there’s all of the typical existing utilities as well as the structural features within a concrete slab. Rebar, reinforcement, post-tension cables and conduits could potentially be an issue for installing charging stations. Making sure to locate utilities and other underground structures beforehand is crucial for these installation projects. Understanding what’s underneath the surface of your construction and infrastructure projects will lead to better overall planning if relocations or adjustments are necessary. 

If you need your utilities marked for your next construction project or infrastructure upgrade, our team at Trinity Subsurface is happy to help! We have located utilities for a number of projects, including renewable energy installations. Check out the rest of our website to find out more about all of our utility locating, scanning, and mapping services.

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