Pic of electrical ductbank

Crews install underground piping that protects utility lines.

Squirrels are cute, except when they cause a university campus to lose electrical power. Clemson’s $75 million electrical system upgrade will improve the electrical power flow to the main campus, increase capacity and force the furry, four-legged friends to find another place to frolic.

The upgrade process, which initially began with prep work projects, began five years ago, required workers to install duct banks (conduits which protect and consolidate cable) beneath selected roads on the main campus. The most crucial—and disruptive—part of the current construction required the intermittent closure of Walter T. Cox Boulevard (Highway 93) during the spring semester, where workers installed electrical duct banks as well as chilled water pipes for air conditioning. The electrical duct bank is now the express feeder path for power cables, which will loop around the main campus.

Why is this important?

“The express feeders are the backbone of power distribution for campus,” said Jarred Fleming, Facilities Department project manager. Fleming explained the old campus electrical system, installed in the 1950’s, operated on a radial-feed pattern, where power was fed in one direction. “So if the power went out, many times everything from that point on down to the end of the system went out.”

Fleming said that the new system includes “loops,” allowing power to “backfeed” from another direction. That shortens the recovery time when the power goes out.

“Instead of an outage that might take eight hours to restore, portions of it will be restored within minutes and then that isolated portion can be repaired and restored within a couple hours as opposed to a much longer duration,” he noted. Furthermore, Fleming said a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, or SCADA system will gather and analyze data in real time, allowing workers to quickly determine the causes of outages and automate electrical switching to reroute power.

Pic of cables leading from an electrical ductbank

Utility lines are pulled through the piping.

Increased capacity

As technology grows, so does the need for power. Fleming said that the new cabling combined with a new 50-megawatt substation will almost double the capacity that Clemson currently has.

“After it’s all done, it’ll be a lot more reliable, modernized system,” said Fleming.  “With the growth the University is experiencing, we are limited with our current capacity, so we are working toward that growth to have additional future power capacity.”

 Increased reliability, better views and critter approved

Another upgrade in the works is the relocation of selected power lines from sky to earth. Those unsightly overhead power lines that obscure the view of the sky and attract squirrels, snakes and fallen trees like a magnet, will be buried in the ground. That’s great news for increased power reliability for people—and for critters that want to add a few years to their lifespans.

“Typically, anywhere you drive, you see overhead power poles,” Fleming explained. “The relocation of the power lines underground will reduce the need for many of the overhead power lines. Snow can accumulate and damage the line, or wildlife can get up there and cause an outage. Trees could fall on the lines, similar to what happened at the South Carolina Botanical Garden last year and take out the power to much of the main campus. The underground power lines will help a lot and reduce the unattractive overhead power poles that currently run through the campus.”

Fleming said most of the widespread impact like road closures and detours along Hwy 93 (Walter T. Cox Blvd) are complete, and the remaining upgrades along other portions of campus will be complete in late 2020 or early 2021.