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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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  • by friedo (112163) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @11:59AM (#29733595) Homepage

    That's enough to power slightly more than four time machines.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:12PM (#29733783)

      I wonder if there is a difference in the potential of this technology and other high throughput power transferring systems. I think being able to distribute power has the capacity to put us on the road to using more electricity as opposed to oil based fuel. That's all we've needed: a kick in the joules to get us on a better path.

      Shocking times indeed. I just need to remember to stay grounded; You can never know exactly when and where technological progress will come from.

    • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @02:13PM (#29735419)

      Excellent. Now we can go into the future and kick Higgs Boson's ass for going back in time and sabotaging the LHC.

  • by localman57 (1340533) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:00PM (#29733607)
    This is why I come to slashdot! A technical article with the right units! 5 GW of electricity. Not 100,000 volts of electricity, not 50,000 Amps of electricity, but 5 GW. Now, that's useful!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209)
      Naiive question, but what limits the capacity of superconductor? With no resistance, therefore no overheating, what stops it from being able to carry even more?
      • My guess would be inductance would be one limiting factor but probably more limiting would be the abilities of the various grids to pump power in or out across the AC/DC and DC/AC converters.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mog007 (677810)

        Perhaps the components which are plugged in at either end of the superconductor?

      • 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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Quantumstate (1295210)

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

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

    by russotto (537200) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:02PM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

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

    • by SoupGuru (723634)
      I would really really hope someone else thought of that while they were designing the thing and put some basic protection in there.
    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Has there ever been an instance of an entire regional grid going out? I mean it certainly made the news when a large portion of California had rolling blackouts, so I'm just assuming that if the entire Western Grid went out, I would have heard of it, and I haven't.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Sandbags (964742)

        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 g

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by geekoid (135745)

      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.

    • A continent-wide black-out will bring huge economies of scale...
  • by Dripdry (1062282) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:02PM (#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?

    • by Temkin (112574)

      I drive thru Clovis every now and then, and always stop for fuel. It's a convenient shortcut from central Texas to I-40, which I find preferable to I-10 when doing a TX to SF Bay RV run. Clovis is in pretty dire circumstances, and it's likely to get worse when the Air Force base closes. I doubt this will do much for their job market.

    • 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.

    • Lived there for 7 years in the 90s. Discovered that "New Mexico" was spanish for "eternal poverty." Discovered that my well paid job in San Francisco brought minimum wage in NM. Still, the place is pretty. Good place to visit and commune with nature. At the moment though, the economy is a notch above third world and so was the wealth distribution (i.e. a few rich white folks, a lot of poor white and mexican folks). Santa Fe has this, particularly.

  • 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]?

  • Tres Amiga (Score:4, Funny)

    by The Yuckinator (898499) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:03PM (#29733649)

    Lucky Day: Wherever there is injustice, you will find us.
    Ned Nederlander: Wherever there is suffering, we'll be there.
    Dusty Bottoms: Wherever liberty is threatened, you will find...
    Lucky Day, Ned Nederlander, Dusty Bottoms: The Three Amigos!

    • by fmobus (831767)
      My spanish may be failing me, but "tres amiga" is just wrong. Should've been "tres amigas"
      • by jeffmeden (135043)
        What they meant was it is going to be designed to keep three Amiga 1000's powered up. You know, for the good of mankind.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Chris Burke (6130)

        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 Atreide (16473) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:03PM (#29733657)

    Sure Amiga still rocks !

    Who will build an Atari ST grid ?

  • by JayPee (4090) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:05PM (#29733671)

    Seriously, Roswell?

    More likely this is going to be the supragrid where the huge alien craft will come to suck our energy away. (Think "V" The mini-series)

  • shapes (Score:3, Funny)

    by orgelspieler (865795) <w0lfie.mac@com> on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:06PM (#29733683) Journal
    Let me get this straight: it will be a square, triangle, pipeline? Are you sure it's not a series of tubes?
  • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kevinNCSU (1531307)
      Does that honestly seem to you like such a huge and difficult problem that couldn't possibly be safeguarded against or solved that we should forgo the ability to provide cheaper electricity across the country? I feel like there's probably been an Engineer or two that's looked at the whole changing demands on a power grid problem during the last half century or so.
      • The problem is only partially an engineering problem. It's also a huge political and financial problem. To have a stable grid, you need to pay for the infrastructure and you need to build powerlines. These are difficult because the politicians do not want to spend the money on the infrastructure for the grid, and people don't want to have the powerlines go near their houses.
      • 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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kevinNCSU (1531307)
          So you would suggest this problem is so large and dangerous that each small region of the country should produce energy for themselves only and no energy trading should occur or do you only wish to address the first half of my sentence? Yes, there's risk, yes, it's a difficult problem. But the question at hand is whether it's so risky and dangerous that we should avoid it and forgo the benefits.

          Personally I see one bad cascade failure amongst years of presumably lower energy prices and more efficient u
        • 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).
    • by vlm (69642)

      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.

      Luckily the interchange is only 5 GW... which only requires maybe one percent of the eastern and western plants to generate. TX on the other hand is probably screwed, that is probably like 5/6 their generating capacity (Don't really know, but how many plants can little ole TX have, anyway?)

  • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rich0 (548339)

      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.

      • by vlm (69642)

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

        Thats what FCL's are for

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fault_current_limiter [wikipedia.org]

        • by Rich0 (548339)

          Would this even do anything in a quench? Suppose that power line is carrying 1 GA (giga-amps) during normal use. The FCL would prevent damage to the line if for some reason it shorted and tried to pull 2 GA.

          However, if there were a quench along the line, the current would actually drop, not rise (resistance increases dramatically). An FCL seems to protect against a short, but during normal operation a transmission line IS a short. The issue isn't that the overall line is carrying too much current. The

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Mousit (646085)
      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 almos
    • Or to put it another way, it's enough to power your time machine *four times*!

  • 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.

    • by ckthorp (1255134)
      Yes, RTFA.
    • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by imgod2u (812837)

        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.

        • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @01:29PM (#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.

    • Yes, the lines are DC with converters at each node that connects to the indivuidual grids.

    • by Thelasko (1196535)

      The three power grids are out of phase with each other. Are they doing a AC->DC->AC conversion?

      Correct. From TFA:

      multiple power transmission lines from each of the Interconnections will feed power into and out of the Tres Amigas SuperStation through multiple AC/DC converters, each connected by DC superconductor cables.

      The superconducting material is required because they are using an AC->DC->AC conversion. It's very difficult to transmit that much power using direct current without a superconductor.

    • by evanbd (210358)

      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.

      Yes, they are. The superconducting cables are running high-voltage DC.

  • ...to Santa Fe?

    Amarillo doesn't even rhyme!

    What about (Yellow Rose)? That would make sense.

    • by Gilmoure (18428)

      D'oh! A quick Google and I find that that song was San José. Weird. In my head, it's always been Santa Fé. Man, the 70's were a long time ago.

  • ...we find out we aren't all exactly running 60 HZ after all.
  • Isn't think just one giant Flux Capacitor [wikipedia.org]?

    Where are the hoverboards?

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

    by QuantumRiff (120817) on Tuesday October 13, 2009 @12:33PM (#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...)

    • by shawnce (146129)

      What really is needed is LONGER super conducting DC corridors across this country not shorter ones. Use these DC long haul corridors to interconnect various existing AC grids allowing a high level of power distribution/load sharing with lower power transmission losses.

      Anyway ignore the 22 sq miles tag line... This is just three DC trunks going between three AC/DC conversion substations that are connected to each of three existing AC grids.

  • ...

    Just wondering why superconductors suddenly make this feasable. 20 square miles just doesn't resolve to a very big number when looking at the length of the wire.

    • by tg123 (1409503)

      ...

      Just wondering why superconductors suddenly make this feasable. 20 square miles just doesn't resolve to a very big number when looking at the length of the wire.

      "The HTS cable system installed in LIPA’s power grid contains hair-thin, ribbon-shaped HTS wires that conduct 150 times the electricity of similar sized copper wires. This power density advantage enables transmission-voltage HTS cables to utilize far less wire and yet conduct up to five times more power – in a smaller right of way – than traditional copper-based cables."

      quoted from this article

      http://www.azom.com/news.asp?newsID=12710 [azom.com]

    • 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.
  • Found this on the bottom of the article

    Any statements in this release about future expectations, plans and prospects for the company, including our expectations regarding the future financial performance of the company and other statements containing the words "believes," "anticipates," "plans," "expects," "will" and similar expressions, constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. There are a number of important factors that could cause a

    • by rdunnell (313839) *

      That sort of disclosure is on almost every statement that is issued by companies that are regulated by the SEC or some other regulatory body. Go look at any company's annual report, quarterly SEC filings, etc. Even press releases might have that sort of language on it. You basically have to try to spell out everything that could possibly go wrong so that stupid investors who don't understand that every business carries potential risks don't sue you later.

  • 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].
  • Anything you find as a "forward-looking" press release on Yahoo finance is pretty dependable to be bullshit. In fact, there's probably a penny stock being run up right now using this press release as the bogus basis for such a run.

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