Power Lines Can Be ‘Works of Art’


The Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, once observed that reasonable people tailor their expectations to what they see in the world around them. Unreasonable people, by contrast, persist in trying to adapt the world around them to meet their expectations. He then concluded, “all progress therefore depends on unreasonable people.”

Power engineering tends to be populated with plenty of reasonable people. That might explain why the vast majority of power structures still have the same basic look – one that has remained basically unchanged for decades. After all, why change something that is so efficient, long-lasting and cost-effective as the lattice steel tower?

The simple answer is that the public increasingly no longer wants to look at them. This is clearly evident by the fact that obtaining community approvals for new overhead lines has become a lengthy and costly exercise for power utilities across the globe.

Insulators strings designed to almost disappear against the sky.
Insulators strings designed to almost disappear against the sky.

Erik Bystrup, founder of a firm of Danish industrial designers, is, by Shaw’s definition a good example of an ‘unreasonable’ man. He has nothing personal against lattice towers – except for the fact that he considers most of them to be ugly and outdated – in his words – “not created by people who care that much about the sky”. So, for the past decade or so, he has set out to do something about this by trying to adapt the world of power transmission to his professional respect for aesthetics and minimalism. Lately, the result of his thinking has begun to transform the appearance of power lines running across much of the Danish countryside.

Bystrup’s award-winning designs of new 400 kV transmission structures are stylistic steel concepts conceived not only to be more visually pleasing than typical lattice towers but also considerably lower. Composite such structures will be the next evolutionary step, even further reducing tower heights as well as the impact of overhead lines on landscapes across the globe.

That will help overcome public objection to new electrical infrastructure. And that is called progress.

Marvin Zimmerman