Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Connecting the "3 US Grids" With HVDC Superconductor

Image via Domestic Fuel

The following is excerpted from a detailed article in GreenTechMedia:

The United States' electricity transmission "grid" is actually made up of three grids – one in the East, one in the West and one in Texas – that aren't connected to each other.

Tres Amigas LLC wants to build a massive triangle of high-voltage, superconducting direct current cables in Clovis, N.M. to connect them. [see this PDF for details] That could allow the three grid systems to buy and sell power – particularly power from big wind farms and solar power plants – from one another.

The company led by Phil Harris, formerly the chief executive of big Mid-Atlantic transmission entity PJM Interconnection, envisions making money by serving as "a renewable energy trading hub" between the nation's three distinct, unconnected networks of transmission grids.

...Superconducting cables can carry far more electricity than their traditional transmission cable counterparts, though they need to be cooled with liquid nitrogen to do so. Despite their high cost, superconducting direct-current (DC) cables are seen as a viable alternative for certain high-voltage transmission applications (see Superconductors For the Grid).

American Superconductor is already making superconducting wire for Korea's LS Cable to install in that nation's electricity grid (see Green Light post).

Whether Tres Amigas can raise funding will likely hinge on how the proposal is treated by FERC. Wellinghoff wants Congress to give FERC more authority to fast-track new interstate transmission lines that could help the country meet its goal of getting a much larger share of its power from renewable sources.

That will be particularly important in connecting new wind and solar farms in regions with rich renewable resources – like the windy Great Plains, or the hot and sunny Southwest – to cities on the East and West coasts that need the power.

But making that beefed-up nationwide transmission system a reality will require hundreds of billions of dollars in new investments, according to studies (see Wind Growth Could Cost Eastern U.S. $80B in Transmission Lines).
The Tres Amigas project will cost over $1 billion -- but the benefits from such a secure, high throughput connection would be immense. A huge nationwide overhaul of the entire grid would cost much more -- over $100 billion. But you have to start someplace.

Consider the case of a post-EMF recovery. Some parts of the grid would be up and reliable much sooner than others. If the reliable sub-grids were able to connect safely -- despite being considerable distances apart -- they could support each other through various load and supply shifts, expected and unexpected.

Superconducting power lines have only just begun to demonstrate their potential. The same applies for HVDC backbones in the US. Combining the two blockbuster technologies to make the grid safer, more reliable, and more versatile, sounds like an excellent idea, for $1 billion.

In the Obama age, anything less than a $trillion is just not real money.



Blogger szilard said...

Good luck with that. Even with Maglev's that are super expensive, the superconductor is only inside the engine/railcar, and the track is not cooled at all. It's like they are trying to cool maglev tracks. Moreover the magnetic field generated by superhigh current is going to induct electricity in nearby moving metals, such as airplanes, birds, and they will parasitically consume some of the energy. In this sense superconductors are not absolute. If there is heavy cylindrical ferromagnetic shielding, that might minimize this loss.
HVDC is cheap. All it needs is an un-temperature controlled aluminum wire, which is more abundant than copper. There are some high voltage ionization/leaks, but overall, it's cheap, cheap, cheap, compared to superconductors, especially as you pile on the miles.

2:40 AM  
Blogger al fin said...

Yes, good points.

But as superconducting materials improve (latest materials superconduct above 0 F) the cost of cooling them decreases.

HVDC is cheap at room temperature, as you say. That is probably the way they will go initially. Better to go with what is feasible now, I agree.

Over the long haul, you'll see a lot more superconducting microgrids, local grids, regional grids, and eventually national and continental grids. It's a matter of improving technology. It takes time.

1:36 PM  

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