Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Super Conducting Grid

These two articles should make clear that a revolution in power transmission and management is well on the way.  Most folks have never understood the actual scope of line losses in our electricity distribution system.  My way of describing it was to say that between a dollar in energy flowing over a dam and the end user, anywhere up to eighty cents was lost in delivering that power.


My point, of course, was that fixing this problem could easily double and triple available power from our installed base.  I would even go so far as to say that the advent of super capacitor batteries makes battery delivery by trucks possibly way more efficient.  This may actually happen while the changes discussed here are slowly implemented.


As these items point out, converting to a superconducting power line appears presently cost competitive and we can expect that to get much better as manufacturing efficiencies take over.  A huge additional saving is that the whole system is buried and out of any weather risk.  I would also like to think that the system can be built to be largely hardened against EMP risk which is impossible or at least impractical with an aerial system.


In the second item, we see the other big component of the future super grid emerging.  I do not think that this is the last version, but it certainly is on the way.


These two components are likely going to largely reduce power losses by something over fifty percent.  That is certainly huge.  I am also sure that somewhere someone is now working on a super efficient power generator to change out the older designs.


Having said this is all obvious and necessary several years ago, it is good to see the improvements emerge.  This means that the support technology is sliding into place to handle the massive build out developing on solar, wind and geothermal energy production systems which all need the super grid in order to provide the supply we need.


After all, we build coal plants next to cities to avoid line losses, and certainly not because we want them there.  It would make way more economic sense to burn the coal right by the mine and then ship the power if we could.  In fact, the advent of the super grid will cause this to happen and end long haul shipping of coal rather quickly.


Cost and benefits of 2G Superconducting Wire for Transmission


Enhances Efficiency: Superconductor Electricity Pipelines are able to cut power losses by two to three times when compared with conventional transmission options. This results in improved return-on-investment and reduced carbon emissions.

* Resolves Difficult Siting Problems: Conventional overhead transmission lines require new corridors hundreds of feet wide. The time-consuming and potentially litigious process involved to site these lines is a significant roadblock to developing new renewable power in the U.S. Superconductor Electricity Pipelines can carry thousands of megawatts (many gigawatts) of power in a 25-foot-wide corridor and can be placed in existing railroad and highway rights of way. 

* Improves Aesthetics: Conventional high voltage towers are more than 100 feet tall and can significantly impact the aesthetics of neighborhoods, national parks and sensitive wildlife areas. Superconductor Electricity Pipelines are out of sight and out of mind. Unlike overhead power lines, they also are free from electromagnetic fields. 

* Increases Security: Ice storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and terrorism are just a few of the threats to overhead power lines. Given their underground location, Superconductor Electricity Pipelines are out of harm’s way.

Tres Amigas trading hub – which Harris says would be the world’s largest use of superconducting cable – is like an automobile traffic circle. It could bring into the loop up to 5,000 megawatts of power at any one moment from any or all of the three grids. The power would then be sent out to whichever grid needs the electricity.

Tres Amigas will show superconducting technology is indeed a commercially viable alternative and a tremendous step forward in solving the nation’s transmission gridlock,” Harris says. “It should lessen lawsuits. If it’s buried, who cares?”

Eliminating the inefficiencies of traditional copper wires would save around $16 billion a year, estimates the US Department of Energy – and pave the way for long-distance transmission of wind and solar power. Another advantage: Being underground, the cable would be resistant to terrorist strikes.

In papers filed in early December with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Tres Amigas outlined its plans for a $600 million, 15- to 20-mile triangular-shaped hub near Clovis, N.M., constructed using superconducting cable.

“What we’re starting to see is a new phase in commercialization of superconducting cable – not just in this country but globally,” says Daniel McGahn, senior vice president and general manager of American Superconductor in Westborough, Mass



28 MegaVolt Ampere Transformer to be Built by End of 2012, Widespread Adoption Would Save 33% of Electric Grid Losses




SuperPower will optimize their second-generation high-temperature superconducting (2G HTS) wire to provide a unique ‘low ac loss’ conductor that will significantly reduce energy losses in the proposed 28 megavolt ampere utility-scale transformer. It is estimated that 40 percent of the nation’s total grid energy losses are from aging conventional transformers and that the use of superconducting transformers could reduce energy losses on the grid by one-third – equivalent to eliminating about 15 million tons of CO2 annually.
The 28 megavolt-ampere three-phase medium-power transformer will be installed at the Southern California Edison utility substation by the end of 2012 and will integrate Smart Grid communication and control instrumentation. Following installation, a two-year test period will provide real-time data to validate Smart Grid business models, system performance, energy savings and improvements in power quality and reliability.

A transformer that incorporates superconducting wire can eliminate up to half the energy losses of transformers wound with conventional copper wire and results in a device that is about one-half the physical size and weight of a conventional transformer. This enables increased power handling capability without the requirement for more or larger substations in already crowded urban areas.

Beyond the energy savings, there are substantial environmental benefits. According to Drew Hazelton, principal engineer and project lead for SuperPower, “Conventional transformers are filled with toxic and flammable oil for cooling. Approximately one transformer catches fire or explodes each day in the United States. A FCL superconducting transformer mitigates both of these risks because it is cooled with liquid nitrogen, an inexpensive, readily available and benign substance that will result in a safer and ‘green’ device.” 

Protecting the electrical grid from faults that result from lightning strikes, downed power lines and other system interruptions is critical to ensure a safe and reliable flow of power for consumers. By incorporating fault current limiting capability, the transformer is better able to handle fault currents that may arise from the Smart Grid goal of accommodating new generation and energy storage options such as renewable energyresources like wind and photovoltaic systems. The fault current limiting feature of the transformer provides critical protection and significantly reduces wear and tear for circuit breakers and other power equipment in existing substations. This reduces capital equipment costs for replacement or upgrade of such equipment and provides flexibility in routing power during emergency situations.

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