The thermal image of a power line-- similar to the ones that carry currents to homes and business-- is displayed in a lab at the Thayer School of Engineering. The cable has been modified slightly to heat up, so ice can be quickly melted off during a storm.
"Even a thin layer of ice on a cable increases the cable tension to the point when the cable is broken. Moreover, the very same additional weight on a cable can break towers," said Victor Petrenko, of Ice Engineering LLC.
The invention was created by Petrenko and other member of Dartmouth's Ice Engineering LLC. The line warms using the electricity running through it. Time, temperature and location of the line can all be adjusted manually, or from a remote.
"We can change the way the cable operates to get it to warm up and that would even prevent ice from forming on it, or if we are too late to prevent the ice from forming, we can melt the ice off," explained Charlie Sullivan, of the Thayer School of Engineering.
It is estimated that the 1998 ice storm that ravaged the northeast left a wake of about $5 billion in damages. And while some of that was due to fallen tree limbs, experts say that most of the trouble came from ice freezing on the lines.
A more recent example of the dangers of ice was the storm the hit southern areas in December.
"Every time we see a storm like that it motivates us to work on it harder and faster," Sullivan said.
The ice engineers are currently in talks with Chinese and Russian power companies that lose billions every year from ice damage. However, at this time, they say that say they have had little success tracking down interest in North America-- despite only a 10 percent increase in cost per line.
"It is very cost efficient, it is a stellar performer, and we want to apply the technology to as many lines inside the United States and Canada as possible," Petrenko said.
The first power line is already being installed in Russia and engineers here hope that once it is proven a success, the technology will spread throughout the rest of the cold world.