Superconducting cables for electricity grids

Jul 16, 2012
Superconducting cables for electricity grids
Credit: Thinkstock

Power grids around the world are reaching their limits at the same time that electricity demand is growing. European researchers developed and tested one of the first superconductor-based cables to address the issue.

High superconducting (HTS) cables have gained attention in the last couple years as a solution to the shortage of transmission capabilities. are materials that lose their to the flow of electrons when cooled to temperatures close to absolute zero – hence, they conduct electricity almost ideally.

In addition to their electrical capabilities, HTS cables are also particularly attractive for several other reasons. They are compact, thus requiring less underground space where lots of piping and other structures already exist. They are also more environmentally friendly, conserving energy and resources and delivering power while generating no external magnetic fields.

Several prototypes have been produced worldwide based on multifilamentary wires. However, the technology is expected to be replaced in the near future by more cost-effective HTS-coated conductor (CC) tapes.

initiated the ‘Super coated conductor cable’ (Super3c) project to develop, manufacture and test a 30 meter prototype system expected to be the first in the world based on low-loss HTS cable technology using CC tapes.

Extensive modelling resulted in the design of HTS cable and terminations that were validated in prototype testing. Simultaneously, scientists developed an HTS copper hybrid CC tape manufactured using two well established processes, ion beam-assisted deposition (IBAD) and high rate pulsed laser deposition (HR-PLD). In order to achieve superconductivity, a cryogenic envelope consisting of a liquid nitrogen cooling system was incorporated.

The consortium delivered a 30 metre HTS power cable, one of the world’s first, with terminations and a cooling system that was successfully tested and shown to meet power objectives.

Innovation enabled a careful evaluation of integration of such cables into existing as well as economic comparison with other available technologies.

The Super3c project has positioned Europe as a world leader in superconducting CC technology. It promises to be the high-capacity environmentally friendly and economical solution to upgrading the world’s electricity grid.

Explore further: Chinese scientists unveil liquid phase 3-D printing method using low melting metal alloy ink

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User comments : 12

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5 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2012
The entire world should move to this and soon. with 18-30% of power lost to transmission (i cannot find any two sources that agree ) even a ten percent increase due to infrastructure change would be huge.

Could someone help me out ---

I am looking for information on superconducting loops to store power. Is it possible ... does it have limitations.

For those who have no idea what i am talking about...

Superconducting cables can carry electricity with no resistance. If the cable has a loop then you should be able to keep adding electricity to this loop much like a battery. But it has to have a limit -- I just cannot find a paper or the physics that explains the action to derive the limits for myself.

please help
1 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2012
Superconducting cables do have resistance, its pretty low though.
1 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2012
Don't forget that these superconductor lines are DC and the power must be converted to/from AC.
3 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2012
Superconducting cables do have resistance, its pretty low though.

"Superconductivity is a phenomenon of EXACTLY ZERO electrical resistance ... occurring in certain materials when cooled below a characteristic critical temperature. An electric current flowing in a loop of superconducting wire can persist indefinitely with no power source"


I am not sure about HTS (High Temperature Superconductors) though... you may be right about those in particular.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2012

I am looking for information on superconducting loops to store power. Is it possible ... does it have limitations.
please help

Yes, superconductivity will break down above a certain temperature, above a certain magnetic field density, and above a certain current density. They're referred to as "thresholds" in the relevant literature iirc.

Don't forget that these superconductor lines are DC and the power must be converted to/from AC.

Why does that matter?

Superconducting cables do have resistance, its pretty low though.

Nope, zero.

not rated yet Jul 16, 2012
Given that this technology, when adopted, will be at the core of the national power grid, I really REALLY hope that the solution is ROBUST.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2012
soon houses will have a DC and AC circuit, that would solve a lot of losses also.
2.5 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2012
While the cable itself has zero resistance, it takes energy to cool and pump the liquid nitrogen. Additionally there may be issues if oxygen is condensed as liquid oxygen is extremely reactive.
On the electrical side, zero resistance may not be advantageous; it can only be used in specific locations on the grid. You want some resistance to damp oscillations after faults, switching and other disturbances. Also, having zero resistance means much much higher fault levels which affects circuit breaker protection systems.
Most good transmission networks will have ~5% losses or less. Essentially this is another good tool for the designer, and a welcome development. But there are always design considerations.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2012
Hmmm I don't know, maybe just put up another line up like before if you want to increase capacity. The author is guilty of presenting a false choice/false dilemma fallacy. For Shame.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 21, 2012
It will probably be cheaper to install PV systems to houses than to link them to current generation with super conductors. They may be able to make that 30m of cable now, but extrapolating that to all thousand km`s of wiring needed in typical country would probably be very very expensive.
not rated yet Jul 22, 2012
We need an international superconducting network of HVDC lines that are converted to AC locally. Over thousands of miles the AC frequency tends to have issues. Also if converted locally the 50hz vs. 60hz frequency would not be an issue. My one concern though would be if modern SCADA systems are secure enough to protect such a network. It would be simple with modern technology to monitor international/inter-state current flow for billing purposes.

When running for office the current US president mentioned in one of his speeches that the US needed $400 billion in investment in our electrical infrastructure to support the growth of the next century. Too bad this wasn't included in the trillions we've spent since. I think it would have been a good investment. Not superconductor technology, but it would have had us heading in the right direction.
not rated yet Jul 26, 2012
This very thing hasa been tried in Albany, NY. Super power inc placed 350 meters of liquid nitrogen cooled HTSC cable in the grid.