Underground Electric Transmission

This overview contains information about electric transmission lines which are installed underground, rather than overhead on poles or towers. Underground cables have different technical requirements than overhead lines and have different environmental impacts. Due to their different physical, environmental, and construction needs, underground transmission generally costs more and may be more complicated to construct than overhead lines. Issues discussed in this pamphlet include:

Types of Underground Electric Transmission Cables

Ancillary Facilities

Construction and Operation Considerations



The design and construction of underground transmission lines differ from overhead lines because of two significant technical challenges that need to be overcome. These are: 1) providing sufficient insulation so that cables can be within inches of grounded material; and 2) dissipating the heat produced during the operation of the electrical cables. Overhead lines are separated from each other and surrounded by air. Open air circulating between and around the conductors cools the wires and dissipates heat very effectively. Air also provides insulation that can recover if there is a flashover. 

Types of Underground Electric Transmission Cables

There are two main types of underground transmission lines currently in use. One type is constructed in a pipe with fluid or gas pumped or circulated through and around the cable in order to manage heat and insulate the cables. The other type is a solid dielectric cable which requires no fluids or gas and is a more recent technological advancement. The common types of underground cable construction include:

 High-pressure, fluid-filled pipe (HPFF)

 High-pressure, gas-filled pipe (HPGF)

 Self-contained fluid-filled (SCFF)

 Solid cable, cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE)

High-Pressure, Fluid-Filled Pipe-Type Cable A high-pressure, fluid-filled (HPFF) pipe-type of underground transmission line, consists of a steel pipe that contains three high-voltage conductors. Figure 1 illustrates a typical HPFF pipe-type cable. Each conductor is made of copper or aluminum; insulated with high-quality, oil-impregnated kraft paper insulation; and covered with metal shielding (usually lead) and skid wires (for protection during construction). 

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    Underground Electric Transmission 1 month ago