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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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  • Very nice, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by russotto (537200) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:02PM (#29733631) Journal

    It's a great thing, but the cynical part (85.6%) of me wonders if this means we'll now be able to have national blackouts rather than just regional ones.

  • by Dripdry (1062282) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:02PM (#29733633) Journal

    I can only hope this could begin to revitalize that area of the country. While I'm not a native, I drove through there a while back and it was terribly, terribly depressing. Run-down houses and empty shops in lots of towns, not a pretty sight.

    Any native New Mexicans who can give us the low-down?

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

    by QuantumRiff (120817) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:33PM (#29734097)

    The article mentions a triangle of 8.5Miles per side, but not being used to dealing with large amounts of power.. (pretty much anything over 120V is over my head).. why do the superconducting pipes have to be that long?

    Wouldn't it be cheaper to have the connections closer? or at that level of power, could there really be arc's 5 miles long? (or are there other issues related to crazy sine wave stuff?)

    And really, I hope someday they decide to build one somewhere else too, like Colorado, or even further north. Then at least there are multiple points of failure.. (and if anyone gave a crap about texas, they would be invited into one of the other grids already, but obviously they think they are special...)

  • Re:A lot of power (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rich0 (548339) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:37PM (#29734157) Homepage

    Yup - just think about what would happen if any part of this conduit warmed up - talk about a MASSIVE heat dump!

    Or, for that matter think about what would happen if somebody took the cable and twisted it into a coil - now you suddenly have a HUGE electromagnet.

  • Technical questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DrVomact (726065) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:20PM (#29734767) Journal

    ...The current cynicism that any improvement in infrastructure is a) only for the money b) going to ruin the planet c) a target for terrorists d) too late

    is getting really old.

    The proposal allows for better distribution of power generation across the continent. Even if it was a target for terrorism so what. ...

    How about this criticism: poorly described technology from a dubious source.

    First of all, I don't think this interconnect is intended to prevent one of the three major grids going down...if that were to happen, you'd want to disconnect the other two pronto so they don't go down with it. This is being sold as a way to efficiently move cheap electricity to places that need it and are willing to buy it. The article refers to it as a "renewable energy market hub". That's fine, in principle (and who dares oppose anything with the word "renewable" in it?).

    But how does it work? There's generalities about how electrical transmissions and interconnects between the major power grids work, but nothing really about the superconducting cable, and why it's better than regular cable. That's not too surprising, if you consider that this is "financial news" aimed at getting people to buy stock in this exciting new venture. What's more disturbing is that when you follow the link to the company that's supposed to be doing this wonderful thing—American Superconductor—you don't get any better answers to these questions.

    You do realize that we're not talking about room temperature superconductors here, right? "High temperature superconductors" is a relative term. Unless they have indeed invented something totally new and kept it totally secret, what we're talking about is a pipeline carrying liquid nitrogen with some superconducting tape wrapped around it. (See, for example, this more informative article from another company selling the same thing [google.com]. (PDF!)

    One major issue right off the bat is how much of the efficiency gained by using the superconductor is consumed by the coolant system. The article doesn't say exactly how long these superconducting conduits will be, and it seems you still need AC/DC/AC conversion, so what's the real gain over using regular cables, especially if we're only talking a mile or so?

    It's also not clear just who is paying for this project. Is it the State of Oklahoma? The US Government (in "stimulation" mode)? Is it a private venture? Is it really a done and financed deal? This is a most unsatisfactory article, and I think some cynicism is warranted.

    Disclaimer: The fact that I am a Texan and intend to give up my megawatts only if you pry them from my cold, dead fingers has not in the least influenced my position on this matter.

  • Re:blackouts (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:27PM (#29734869)

    Don't really know, but how many plants can little ole TX have, anyway?

    A lot more than you might think. Wikipedia fails me for the numbers, but Texas is fairly self-sufficient when it comes to energy production. They're also tied into the Mexican power grid.

  • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:29PM (#29734887)

    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.

    No, AC is easier to deal with because transformers are simpler than what amount to really big semiconductor VFDs.

    The real gain, is you spend megabucks on insulation for the highest voltage the line will experience. On AC, thats the peak voltage of the sinewave. But the DC equivalent of an AC current is the RMS, and it's only about 71% of the peak (well, exactly its 1/2**.5) So that means you can push about 30% higher voltage thru a DC cable before it arcs over, and because P=E**2/R you get the square of 30% more power...

    There are also some other issues, but in general, you can push about twice as many watts thru a cable at DC than thru it at AC.

    Since the cost of the cable is huge compared to the cost of the station gear, it makes sense to double your capacity by using DC.

  • by Captain Segfault (686912) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @05:44PM (#29737749) Homepage Journal

    Note that superconductors are, in a way, inherently easier to cool, because they don't generate resistive heat. All you need to do is cool them enough to take away the heat they gain from the environment, which you can mitigate with insulation.

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