We see cables everywhere. We see workers from electric companies checking meters, we see cell phone towers as we drive down highways, and we see ethernet cables at home and in the office. Did you know that some of that power is actually transmitted underwater? Across the world, using underwater submarine cable for the transmission of electricity and high-speed telecommunications data has become more and more popular.
Underwater Cable: The Wave of the Future
In 1866, the first transoceanic cable was used when a link between Ireland and Newfoundland was discovered, allowing transmission of seven words per minute via telegraph. As technology progressed from Alexander Bell’s 1876 invention of the telephone to the first fiber-optic submarine cable in 1979, submarine cables have come a long way.
According to a report published by The United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and The International Cable Protection Committee Ltd. (ICPC), the submarine cable is on the incline. After experiencing a small decline, concerns of climate change in the mid-2000s renewed the interest in using submarine cables. A report by Navigant Research, a research firm that tracks the energy industry, claimed that global sales of high-voltage submarine cable are set to triple from $1.9 billion in 2014 to over $5.3 billion by 2023.
Google: Leading the Pack in Underwater Cable Systems
Google is no stranger to submarine cables. In August 2014, the company announced that they signed commercial agreements with six global companies for the building and operation of a new Trans-Pacific cable system called FASTER. The FASTER Cable System will better connect the United States to Japan, and, according to a press release from Google, will cost approximately $300 Million.
"FASTER is one of a few hundred submarine telecommunications cables connecting various parts of the world. These cables collectively form an important infrastructure that helps run global Internet and communications,” said Mr. Woohyong Choi, the chairman of the FASTER executive committee. “The consortium partners are glad to work together to add a new cable to our global infrastructure. The FASTER cable system has the largest design capacity ever built on the Trans-Pacific route, which is one of the longest routes in the world. The agreement will benefit all users of the global Internet.”
Subsea Cables: Staying Protected Despite the Elements
Subsea Cables has come far in the construction and installation of their products. Submarine telegraph cables from the early 1900s were constructed with an inner copper conductor for transmitting messages, an insulating layer of tree resin called gutta-percha, and one or more outer layers of iron wire for strengthening and protecting the whole cable. Today, cables have multiple glass fibers that have the capacity to transmit over 1 million telephone calls. Despite increasing in power, modern cables are significantly smaller than their predecessors. Deep ocean cables are now only about the size of a garden hose.
More Growth to Come
James McCray, a senior researcher for Navigant Research, believes that underwater cable system projects will continue well into the future, but won’t necessarily replace above ground use. “There will be a large market for submarine cables. The connections between Iceland, with huge geothermal generation resources and various parts of Northern Europe, are huge, and connections across the Mediterranean Sea to Northern Africa and the Middle East might be huge opportunities,” McCray said. McCray predicted that these opportunities will continue to be driven by population growth, increased reliance on offshore renewables, and the interconnection of energy markets and regional systems. However, don’t expect a total transformation. “I think that some portion of the market will continue to be submarine cables, but there is such a high proportion of the transmission and distribution grid that is land-locked and above ground, that submarine cables will continue to be a regional and coastal phenomenon,” McCray explained.
For more on submarine cable systems, check out this map of 300 active submarine cable systems that interconnect the world.