Futuristic Utility Pole: Solar, Battery, WiFi, 4G, and EV Charging
Tom Lombardo posted on December 04, 2016 |
This 21st century utility pole has solar power, battery, communication, LED streetlight, and EV char...

When I was a kid, "telephone poles" carried phone lines, power lines, and cable TV. And they were ugly. Totem Power wants to modernize their function and eliminate their unsightliness.

The Futuristic Utility Pole - Coming to a City Near You?
The Futuristic Utility Pole - Coming to a City Near You?

The upstart company recently introduced Totem, a twenty-first century utility pole that sports a photovoltaic array, an onboard battery, a wireless communication hub, a smart LED streetlight, and an electric vehicle charging port. The futuristic power pillar is designed to help cities and utility companies to grow smart, clean-energy communities with reliable electrical and communication networks. Created for city streets, campuses, parking lots - anywhere you'd find a streetlight - the Totem blends distributed generation with a sleek, modern appearance.



A Totem Utility Pole in the City
A Totem Utility Pole in the City

The Future of Utility Poles

Like today's utility poles, the Totem carries electric power lines from the grid. In addition, the Totem includes a 5 kW photovoltaic array, which charges a built-in 44 kWh Li-ion battery bank. The combination solar array and battery bank provide a source of backup power in the event of a grid failure. It also keeps the wireless communication network alive during power outages. Beyond that, the PV and storage can assist with energy management by delivering power locally during peak demand times. Since it's grid-tied, the Totem can also feed electricity to the grid. The 5 kW solar array is the size of a typical residential rooftop system, and the battery is the equivalent of about three Tesla Powerwall units. By itself, it's not much, but a street or parking lot filled with Totems could put a significant dent in local power consumption from the grid.

Inside the Totem
Inside the Totem

I contacted a company representative and asked a bunch of technical questions, but I didn't get many answers. That's understandable, as the company was just conceived in the summer of 2015 and incorporated the following November, so it's still in its infancy. Totem is refining the design as they test new prototypes and look for more investors.


Challenges

While I like the idea of a modernized utility pole, I can see potential problems with getting buy-in from utilities, municipalities, and businesses. First of all, the Totem requires underground power cables, so if that's not part of the current infrastructure, it would be very costly to implement these poles. They seem more suitable for new construction (e.g., planned communities, expanded campuses, additional parking lots, microgrids) than for retrofits.

Second, I'm wondering how a customer would pay to use the EV charging station. Will it have a built-in credit card reader? That would make sense, especially since 4G and WiFi are already there.

Third, how will it prioritize power delivery during a grid failure? Will it disable EV charging in order to keep the lights and communication systems functional for as long as possible?

And finally, how much will the Totem cost?

Totem plans to release the new utility pole in the summer of 2017. No word yet on its price tag.


Images courtesy of Totem Power



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