Northpower completed the ultra-fast broadband roll-out in Whangarei under-budget and two months ahead of schedule.

The 40-month programme was the first contract completed under the Government’s $1.5 billion UFB scheme and saw more than 28,000 kilometres of fibre-optic cable laid past 19,000 premises. Northpower’s customers in the city now have the country’s fastest broadband services, while the electricity network has also benefited from faster and more reliable control and communication systems.

Community trust-owned Northpower considers the UFB to be a key enabling technology for its region and an important capability for the firm’s expanding contracting business. Completion of the contract has also been a highlight in what the company says has been one of its most successful years on record.

Northpower supplies 50,000 consumers on 5,800 kilometres of lines in the Kaipara and Whangarei districts. It is also one of the country’s largest electrical services contractors, with 15 depots in the North Island and in Perth and Melbourne.

The company, which also contracts into the Pacific, has more than 1,000 staff in New Zealand, while its growing Australian business, West Coast Energy, has 200 staff.
Northpower cites the UFB build as an example of the type of innovation and pragmatic engineering discipline it tries to bring to its task.

Passive Optical Network (PON) technology enabled Northpower to develop an innovative construction method using its existing poles. Using a lean fibre design and having optical splitters on poles close to customers kept the cost similar to that of copper but with superior technical performance.

In undergrounded areas, the firm used blown-fibre technology, but put the splitters in street-side cabinets to avoid the cost of laying ducts to properties that may not utilise the service.
The UFB project is among a handful of New Zealand firsts claimed by Northpower.
In May the company opened the country’s first fast-charging station as part of its goal to make Whangarei the electric vehicle capital of New Zealand.

Last year, Northpower and Vector introduced new ultrasonic technology to monitor overhead lines. More than 80,000 poles all over New Zealand have now been assessed using the technology, which has the potential to reduce faults and accidents.

A live line methodology the company developed for refurbishing and painting the cross-arms on 220 kV transmission towers has since been taken up by Transpower.

That approach to technology is also reflected within the network business where the company developed a tensile strength test machine to cost-effectively determine the remaining life of conductor and better target its replacement spending.

As a result, 30 kilometres of near end-of-life conductor was replaced in the past year, taking the total since the programme began to 140 kilometres.

An on-going focus on reliability saw vegetation cleared along 1,900 kilometres of line during the 2013/14 financial year. The company also replaced 73 manual overhead air break high-voltage switches with metal-clad SF6 insulated switches.

More than 3,800 33 kV insulators have been replaced in recent years, and the company aims to complete that programme this year.

As a result of those initiatives, Northpower was rated 11th among the country’s 29 lines companies for SAIDI performance in 2013 by PwC. The firm’s unplanned SAIDI measure fell 8.3 per cent from the year before, while the outage frequency index fell 9.2 per cent.

Northpower’s focus on targeted spending saw reliability improve despite a $400,000 reduction in network opex management costs during the past year.

The network division’s operating earnings before interest and tax increased 3.7 per cent in the past year. Group revenue increased 9 per cent to $308 million while net profit climbed to $16 million from $11.3 million.

The Lines Company of the Year award category is sponsored by TE Connectivity.