No powerlines in Europe? Really?

Right now there is a power outage in a couple of neighborhoods in San Francisco (underground transformer failed). Someone posted the following comment to the news story:

Is there any truth to this? I have never been out of the US, so I don’t know how you dirty foreigners do things.:stuck_out_tongue:


No. Many European cities are incredibly densely populated, so the lines may be hidden underground, but Europe is not all urban sprawl. There are power lines to and from other cities/towns.

—Insert non-GQ snark about San Franciscans and their opinions and faux-cosmopolitanism because they’ve been to Amsterdam once.

First, you do see aerial powerlines: there is a movement to bury them but hell yeah they’re around. Second, come to any real-old area and you don’t just get aerials: you get black cables thicker than my arms crawling over ancient stone facades…

IOW, whomever posted that posesses interesting agricultural properties.

Apparently that poster is very familiar with nowhere in Europe.

I’ve been in Nowhere, Europe and indeed it has no aerial powerlines. But other cities in Europe do have them.

Power lines from substations to houses (i.e. 230 V AC = 400 V 3-phase AC) are underground in most German towns/villages - municipialities either own the utility or award a license to use the streets for lines, so they have a lot of leverage to make the utility bury the lines. Underground lines seem the rule also in those Western neighbour countries of Germany that I am familiar with.

To answer the OP : no, this poster is wrong.At least here in France, there are powerlines everywhere in the countryside, and also in some urban areas. Of course, if you only visited Paris, for instance, you wouldn’t know, obviously.

There are pylons going from town to town and from the power stations of course. They carry high voltage current to local substations.

What I HAVEN’T seen in the UK and bits of continental europe I’m familiar with are electricity cables strung from poles all over residential areas with little transformers. (Never, ever seen shoes thrown over cables either, that seems to be a mostly american passtime)

In residential ares they are underground. There are still telephone poles here and there but they seem to be being gradually phased out as well.

As has been already said, it depends on the definition (of it :)) of

where exactly in Europe: what country (there’s obviously still a difference between Western Europe and former communist Eastern Europe; and Northern Europeans always look down on Southern Europeans as doing things more relaxed instead of adhering to standards)

city or countryside - in cities, lines are usually buried, in the countryside less so

Kind of power cables: the thick black ones that distribute power to the houses, or the big overland lines? Here’s a picture of an overland line in Germany which carries high voltage (and is under controversy of leukemia risk). But the thin black wires to local houses are indeed not common.

That’s not to say they don’t exist: when severe snow storms hit Germany, some parts in the countryside of sparsely populated Mecklenburg-Vorpommern the lines fell down (and people pointed out that the private power companies hadn’t invested in regular upkeep and repair, pocketing the money instead, and complained why the state hadn’t required them to keep things in good shape?)

Another aspect is that even if the lines are knocked down (which is rare), people usually heat with gas or wood or solar thermic, but not with electricity, which is too inefficient and too expensive. So while it’s uncomfortable to have no lights and no internet, it doesn’t mean people will freeze over the next 5 hours (in addition, houses are insulated).

Re: heating
Without electricity most Germans will nevertheless have no heating. The pumps and also the electronics that control the heating will stop working.

And you forgot to mention oil as a major energy source for heaters (but that doesn’t change anything when the power is out)

I just went to Google Street View to look at a random spot in Europe, to see how long it would take me to find some above-ground wires. On my very first try, I ended up at this spot just outside Geneva, Switzerland. It seems to be a point where the above-ground wires stop. My guess is that they continue underground from that point.

Just wanted to add a Scandinavian datapoint: Large aerial power lines carrying high voltage to the main transformer stations is the norm, even though underground (or undersea) cables are becoming more frequent. Aerial distribution of power from transformer stations to homes, however, is only seen in very (very!) thinly populated areas and usually to older houses. And then usually just from the closest transformer/distributing station (fed by underground lines) to the house.

Basically, we lay down underground power (and telephone/communication) lines when we pipe for water and sewage today.

Needing a bit for the pumps is different from needing electricity for heat itself. To just run the pump or the electronic control, a very small generator is sufficient, or a temporary power line.

In addition, because of the insulation, it will take some time till the house gets really cold, and during that time, you can look for alternatives.

Yes of course, oil and gas. And in cities, there’s also district heating.

Yep there are. Again I will comment about Germany. We would take the U-Bahn from the burbs into Berlin and would see power lines the whole way there along the tracks. Again, not so much in the city but I’m pretty sure that’s everywhere (mostly).

good one Dog80.

that was in Norfolk and doesn’t exist anymore.

If you go into any downtown in any city in America you won’t see power lines either. Does that mean there are no power lines going from pole to pole?

All it means is that it is expensive to bury power lines, so it is only done of necessity. Very expensive. Very, very expensive. The estimates for burying them in the U.S. are in the multiple trillions. And buried power lines cost way more to maintain because you have to a) figure out where the problem is and b) dig up something major of concrete or asphalt to get to them and c) rebury it all again.

If you want this you will have to pay for it. You. Not the government. Not the power company. You. It will be applied to your electric rates, jumping them by orders of magnitude.

Just say when.

San Diego is slowly moving the utilities underground. New developments have for years been required to have underground utilities. My neighborhood just recently came up as the next one to have electric, phone and cable utilities put underground. This is not being done at direct homeowner expense. My rates are not going up any faster than the rates of San Diego as a whole and San Diego as a whole the rates are not going up fast. The pace of putting the utilities underground is slow, San Diego utilities should be underground by the turn of the century so the cost is being spread out over a lot of people and a long time.

Where can you find powerlines strung through trees? Pretty sure that’s not allowed anywhere in the US.

Underground utility drops have certainly become the preferred way for new construction, but in urban areas like San Francisco, most of the ground is paved, so in order to replace the neighborhood powerline, plus the phone lines and cable TV lines would require approximately 17 billion miles of trenching through streets, sidewalks and driveways as each service would have to be in its own conduit between buried wiring vaults and each building. It really is such a complex undertaking that it’s generally not even considered unless an entire neighborhood is being rebuilt, and that’s really rare.

Plus, in a situation relatively unique to San Francisco, many streets have overhead trolley power lines for streetcars and buses. If you underground the utilities to the buildings along those routes, you’ll still be stuck with overhead wiring for the transit line.

I think it is true to say that in the UK at least, the use of overhead power lines to deliver power to individual homes is much less common than in the US, even factoring in for differences in housing density. Even quite modest villages tend to be served by buried cables from a local sub-station. The main distribution network is still primarily above-ground.

I have- there’s at least 3 pairs I know of strung over wires within a few streets of my house. Never saw it as a kid though.