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Power United States

High-Temp Superconductors To Connect Power Grids 332

Posted by timothy
from the what've-y'-got-t'-swop? dept.
physburn writes "Somewhere in a triangle between Roswell (UFO) NM, Albuquerque (Left Turn) NM, and Amarillo (Do you know the way?) TX, a 22.5 square mile triangle of High Temperature Superconductor pipeline is to be built. Each leg of the triangle can carry 5GW of electricity. The purpose to load-balance and sell electricity between America's three power grids. Previously the Eastern Grid, Western Grid and Texan Grid have been separate, preventing cheap electricity being sold from one end of America to the other. The Tres Amiga Superstation, as it is to be called, will finally connect the three grids. The superstation is also designed to link renewable solar and wind power in the grids, and is to use HTS wire from American Superconductor. Some 23 years after its invention, today HTS comes of age. "
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High-Temp Superconductors To Connect Power Grids

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  • Where? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Eevee (535658) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:03PM (#29733639)

    Amarillo (Do you know the way?)

    Don't you mean San Jose [lyricsfreak.com]?

  • blackouts (Score:4, Informative)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:09PM (#29733725) Homepage

    'Cause it's not enough to black out just the northeast during a cascade failure; we have to black out all of conus at the same time.

    You're not safe just because your state is an energy exporter. Just like a sudden spike in demand, a sudden huge drop in demand forces generating plants into emergency-safe mode, shutting them down. You're safe only if your part of the grid neither imports nor exports more than a small percentage of the total power in play.

  • Re:Very nice, but... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:14PM (#29733803)

    Superconducting grid interconnects (and HVDC in general) make power grids more stable because they eliminate synchronization requirements.

  • A lot of power (Score:5, Informative)

    by siliconwafer (446697) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:16PM (#29733831)

    Each leg of the triangle can carry 5GW of electricity.

    5GW is a lot of power; to put that into perspective, the entire state of New York uses about 30GW at peak load on a hot summer day; the great power of Niagara Falls gives us about 5GW (Canadian + US generators).

  • Re:Four words: (Score:3, Informative)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:16PM (#29733837) Journal

    Central Point of Failure.

    Attention terrorists: we have a new target to aim for.

    The USA's infrastructure is full of bottlenecks and chokepoints.
    Internet/phone/gas/power, airlines, stock markets, highways, warehouses, ports, payment processing, etc etc etc.

    This article comes to mind [washingtonpost.com]:
    "Classify my dissertation? Crap. Does this mean I have to redo my PhD?" he said. "They're worried about national security. I'm worried about getting my degree." For academics, there always has been the imperative to publish or perish. In Gorman's case, there's a new concern: publish and perish.

    He eventually got his PHD and started a GIS company called FortiusOne.

  • Re:Where? (Score:4, Informative)

    by woozlewuzzle (532172) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:18PM (#29733843)

    Yeah - they kind of stretched it. Neil Sedaka's song has:

    Is this the way to Amarillo?
    Every night I’ve been hugging my pillow
    dreaming dreams of Amarillo
    and sweet Marie who waits for me.
    Show me the way to Amarillo
    I’ve been weepin’ like a willow
    crying over Amarillo
    and sweet Marie who waits for me.

  • by insecuritiez (606865) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:18PM (#29733855)

    The three power grids are out of phase with each other. Are they doing a AC->DC->AC conversion? It was my understanding that the biggest technical hurdle to connecting the grids was the difficult problem of shifting the phase of one grid to another.

  • Re:shapes (Score:2, Informative)

    by Interoperable (1651953) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:19PM (#29733867)
    Wikipedia has a good article [wikipedia.org] on the basic design.
  • by physburn (1095481) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:28PM (#29734027) Homepage Journal
    Yes, Its AC->DC->AC. SuperConducting Cable always run DC. If you run alternating current through a superconductor, you'll get resistance (actually impendence) again.

    ---

    SuperConductor [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

  • Re:I love slashdot. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:32PM (#29734079)

    Energy is measured in Joules, Watts is a measurement of Power. it is 5 GW of power, not electricity or energy.

  • Re:I love slashdot. (Score:5, Informative)

    by localman57 (1340533) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:33PM (#29734095)
    When I was an intern (1996) I worked in the power-forecasting department of a municipal power company. We used to estimate 4kW peak average per house, worst case. Obviously, every house occasionally pulls more, big houses pull more than small houses, etc, but at about 5pm on the hottest day of the summer, we could count on having a power usage of approximately 4kW * number of houses. So, roughly 1.25 million houses.

    Not sure if it'd be more or less now. Houses and HVAC are more efficient, but people tend to use more power when they're active now.
  • by Volante3192 (953645) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:35PM (#29734127)

    They charge the same and rake in more profit.

  • Where? (Score:5, Informative)

    by pgn674 (995941) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:42PM (#29734217) Homepage
    For those who aren't sure where that triangle is, a map [google.com].
  • by belthize (990217) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:47PM (#29734297)

    Native and current resident. New Mexico is no different than the rest of the states. The rural areas are seeing a steady migration out, the urban areas are seeing a steady migration in.

    Some areas like Farmington (North west) or Artesia, Roswell, Carlsbad (east side) are highly susceptible to boom/bust natural gas/oil cycles. Areas like Albuquerque are chugging right along and were hit about the national average by the recent recession. Most of the state is agricultural and is slowly sliding into oblivion like the rest of the nation's non corporate-run agriculture though not merely so hard hit as the wheat belt region.

    The current governor is a bit of a twit at times but he's done a decent job getting some higher tech interest in NM. The combination of alternative energy as both a producer of energy and producer of materials, light rail interconnect for Rio Grande corridor and of course the space port may end up putting NM in an promising position.

    The state isn't overly rich in resources/industry and agriculture is not a money making proposition for any state/country. The state's future is either in energy or tech or it's doomed to a tail end of the pack future much like most other low pop poor states.

    In short I think you've overstated the destitute nature of the state compared to most other comparable states. On the other hand I agree that this newest venture is yet another energy/tech venture within the state which is needed or your observation regarding the state may be prophetically accurate.

    Then again all the above it's pretty much true for the nation as a whole.

  • Re:A lot of power (Score:2, Informative)

    by Mousit (646085) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:51PM (#29734339)
    It really depends on where you look, to be honest, and surprisingly the state of New York isn't necessarily all that huge as you might think. It's not even ranked second or third in energy usage.

    To add to your perspective, the state of Texas produces and consumes--by a wide margin for both--far more electrity than any other state or territory in the United States. Full summer peaks can reach average state-wide usages of around 97GW.

    That's especially impressive to me considering the Texas grid is almost isolated, so it can't easily call in outside power from other states like New York can.
  • by localman57 (1340533) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:54PM (#29734393)
    You need superconducters because of the amount of current that will be transported. The loss across the wire increases with the square of the current ( p = (v)i or p = (i/r)i ). That's not a big problem when you're running a vacuum cleaner (although the wire will ususally get warm). It's a huge problem when you're talking about moving thousands of amps. The longer the wire, the more losses there are. In fact, it's common for the main conductors coming out of power plants to be made of pure sodium metal submerged in oil, due to the fact that sodium has a very, very high conductance at normal temperatures.

    That's why electric companies sink so much money into transformers. You step up the electricity to high voltage / low current for transmission, then back to low voltage / high current for consumption.
  • Re:Very nice, but... (Score:3, Informative)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:55PM (#29734407) Homepage Journal

    Less likely to ahve any black outs. In fact, the whole fake rolling blackout thing Enron did wouldn't be possible had this been set up becasue the state would ahve more avenues to get power.

  • Re:I love slashdot. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:00PM (#29734483)

    A superconductor has a critical current, if you go above the critical current, the superconductivity breaks down (and you are screwed). The critical current density depends on: material, temperature, and the magnetic field (basically, the critical current decreases when the temperature or magnetic field increases).

      Since there is always a magnetic field present (the earth magnetic field), there is always a maximum current a superconductor can carry.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:12PM (#29734673) Homepage Journal

    The Americas: North America, Central America, South America.
    NorthAmerica: Canada, the US, and Mexico.
    Mexico: the United States of Mexico
    America: the United States of America.

    Is it that hard to understand?

  • by imgod2u (812837) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:12PM (#29734679) Homepage

    You'll actually get reactance (imaginary part of impedance, specifically inductance in this case), not resistance. But you don't actually lose energy through reactance like you do resistance (no power is converted to heat) unless there's another magnetic field to interfere. So yes, you could put AC through a superconductor. There's just little reason to when you have very little resistance and DC is usually easier to deal with.

  • Re:Tres Amiga (Score:3, Informative)

    by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:15PM (#29734695) Homepage

    My spanish may be failing me, but "tres amiga" is just wrong. Should've been "tres amigas"

    No you're right. I mean, it's the same as in English. "The Three Friend"? It's a typo in the summary; in TFA you can see it's spelled correctly.

    But it's Amigas, so it's feminine. Lucky Day still works (if you want your daughter to be a stripper). Ned could be Nadine. And Dusty? I guess that could be a woman's name?

  • by biryokumaru (822262) * <biryokumaru@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:20PM (#29734751)
    5 or 6 really decent electrical puns and you get a -1 Troll. Nice.
  • Re:blackouts (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spazmania (174582) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:47PM (#29735057) Homepage

    Does that honestly seem to you like such a huge and difficult problem

    Yes, as a matter of fact, it does.

    During a sudden large drop in demand you have fractions of a second before the turbines spike the hell out of the voltage frying unprotected electronics and maybe a few seconds before the turbines start to tear themselves apart. That's how much time the grid controller has to receive messages from and analyze the system state across the entire grid and decide which turbines across the entire grid to slam the emergency brakes on so that the remaining ones are properly loaded.

    It isn't possible, not with any kind of safety margin. As a result, the grid isn't built that way. Instead, each generating plant has a local safety system on the turbines. If the demand changes faster than the speed regulator can compensate they go into emergency safe mode and shut down entirely, after which it takes days to run through the startup checklist and come back online. The grid controller can affect this only indirectly - by stabilizing the demand hitting each generating plant before the safety systems trip.

    Which means that any time a sufficiently large capacity set of transmission lines fails, that failure cascades through the system dropping plant after plant.

    This isn't just speculation, by the way. Go read http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_Blackout_of_2003 [wikipedia.org] . When the cascade failure finally gets underway, it moves really fast. 150 seconds for the whole blackout in 2003. There's no time to fix it. Either your local portion of the grid transmits or receives so little power from the rest that it can instantly disconnect and absorb the change in demand or else it collapses along with the rest.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:57PM (#29735189)

    >Likewise, California can sell to the east when it's 5am there (people are still asleep), but 8am in the east.

    Not going to work here in the Northeast.. I'm sure I remember when I was at Niagra Falls, they explained that during Off-Peak hours, Niagra Falls uses their extra power to pump water into a reservoir that they then need to drain to meet the demand during on-peak hours.. So they are already running at pretty close to 100% output 24/7..

  • Re:Why 22 sq miles? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Guspaz (556486) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:10PM (#29735379)

    HydroQuebec's 735kV grid has over 11 thousand kilometres of lines, and suffers 4.5 to 8 percent loss depending on environmental and operating conditions.

    The power loss over 8.5 miles should be inconsequential...

  • Re:I love slashdot. (Score:2, Informative)

    by arminw (717974) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:57PM (#29736055)

    ....Naiive question, but what limits the capacity of superconductor?....

    The magnetic field it is in or generates. Anytime you have an electric current, you have associated with it a magnetic field. Add some value of magnetic field, the superconducting wire becomes an ordinary wire with resistance, which quickly burns out unless the power is shut off immediately.

    At the CERN LHC they use lots of superconducting wire wound into coils to make powerful magnets that have no losses. Another thing that quenches, that is making non superconducting, is a higher temperature. In these magnets, the superconductor is kept at 4.2 K. Presumably, the superconducting wires remain superconducting at a higher temperature for these proposed power lines. Keeping everything superconducting, especially where conductors are joined, is still an art more than a science. It was a bad joint that cost the spectacular failure at the startup of the LHC.

    To transmit 5 GW, will require both high voltages and high currents. To transmit 10,000 amperes at 500,000 V is a nontrivial engineering problem.

  • Re:I love slashdot. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Quantumstate (1295210) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:12PM (#29736283)

    Superconductors break down in large enough magnetic fields. A larger current generates a stronger magnetic field. So too much current and it stops superconducting.

  • Re:Very nice, but... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sandbags (964742) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @03:35PM (#29736587) Journal

    Well, they did take out about half of new england, including large portions of canada several years ago. However, that was not a grid issue, but a computer communication issue, and that's been fixed and made far more redundant. It was an accident of coincidence that allowed improperly timed alarms to cascade through a communication network that shut the grid down because it thought it was fighting off electric backpressure and trying top prevent a feedback that would have blown transformers and possibly generators, and then the other system that tried to account for the lack in sudden power availability also alarmed and could not cope, and went down.

    That communication issue was identified (as well as a few other case scenarios they realized were also possible) and the systems were reprogrammed and upgraded.

    The chance of such a mass grid failure is rediculously low now. the bigger the interconencted grid is, especially including HVDC superconducting long range lines, the less of a chance of faiure there is as localized issues can be readily handled by power stations hundreds of miles away. The big deal was the next power station down the line could not handle a wide area outage, and then itself went down. If we're not relying on the poewr station down the street, but can draw from across the nation, that's a non-issue.

  • Re:blackouts (Score:2, Informative)

    by Tesla Tank (755530) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @04:43PM (#29737725)

    That's simply not true. The grid operates with accordance to guidelines set by the North American Electricity Reliability Commission (NERC), one of the policy is something called "N-1 Criterion". Which means any one single transmission line or generation unit can go down without affecting the grid. And NERC also requires that the operator balance the grid to satisfy N-1 criterion after one contingency happens. So it's not like once one unit trips, another unit trip would destroy the grid. Yes, balancing the grid after a contingency takes time, but the likely hood of 2 events happen so closely is low. Plus, the N-1 Criterion requires the grid to remain stable for the single WORST scenario, which many contingencies aren't.

    The cause of the August 2003 blackout also was caused by improper procedure by FirstEnergy, along with lack of situational awareness on the grid. The joint task force report on the blackout concluded the blackout could have and should have been prevented by proper operating procedure. You can find the link to it at the bottom of that wiki page you linked to, or here: https://reports.energy.gov/ [energy.gov]

    Yes, electricity travels fast, but that doesn't mean the grid is not operated to handle failures. BTW, this is my current research area, so I know at least a little bit of what I'm talking about. Not to make the logical fallacy of appealing to authority or anything.

  • Re:blackouts (Score:4, Informative)

    by dbIII (701233) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @07:25PM (#29739435)

    maybe a few seconds before the turbines start to tear themselves apart

    I used to do component failure analysis in power stations and I really do not have a clue where you get that gem from, especially since the turbines are still going to be connected to very big heavy generators that are not going to be able to change speed quickly one way or another.
    Please elaborate to prove that it isn't just manipulative alarmist utter bullshit that you are excreting.

  • Re:blackouts (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @04:15AM (#29742305)
    I think you are getting confused with the early 1900, or your infrastructure is worse than China.

    Really what the hell are you talking about? Turbines spike? Emergency systems include massive dump resisters at the station I was at. Response time of the *automated* systems was under a second, while the many tons of generator damped out anything quicker than that and these still the steam vent valves (you can throttle the turbines faster than the boiler). A full shutdown startup cycle was 6 hours tops and we had five units, so we would not have to do the full cycle on all of them (one or two are at idle depending on maintainance schedules). And that was a slow full steam plant. Gas turbines can do it under an hour I believe (the bottoming cycle takes longer IIRC).

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