NY's LIPA Throws Switch On Nation's 1st
Apr 30, 2008 - Dow Jones
With concerns over the decaying
energy infrastructure in the U.S. mounting
and new renewable-energy capacity coming online
in remote locations, a new technology is emerging
to relieve stress on the overtaxed grid.
Utilities are beginning to
roll out new transmission cables using wires
made of superconducting material that can
carry 150 times the electricity of traditional
Last week the Hauppage, N.Y.-based
Long Island Power Authority threw the switch
on a half-mile test project that is the first
transmission cable system to run in a commercial
grid in the U.S.
"The real value of super-conducting
cables is that (they have) three to five times
the load-carrying capability that a conventional
cable would have," said Bruce Germano, vice
president of retail services at the Long Island
Power Authority. "As load continues to grow,
we know we are going to have to do reinforcement
and upgrades on the transmission system and
the distribution system."
That $58.5 million Long Island
project was backed in part by the Department
of Energy and used high temperature superconductor
wire provided by the Devens, Mass.-based American
Superconductor Corp. (AMSC) in a cable system
made by Paris-based Nexans SA (4444.FR).
The DOE spent about $27.5 million
to get the cable installed as part of its
work to modernize the U.S. electric grid,
through its Office of Electricity Delivery
and Energy Reliability.
In 2006, utilities such as American
Electric Power Co. (AEP) and National Grid
PLC (NGG) developed projects in Dayton, Ohio,
and Albany, N.Y., that test high- temperature
superconductor power wires in distribution
cables. The Long Island project is the first
to use the technology in transmission cables.
The Albany, N.Y., project with
National Grid uses superconducting wires made
by Tokyo-based Sumitomo Electric Industries
Ltd. (5802.TO), while the AEP project uses
wires from American Superconductor.
The Department of Energy also
backed the AEP project with a $5.6 million
investment and spent $13.7 million on the
National Grid installation.
For DOE, the test deployments
of the high-temperature superconducting technology
are the culmination of 20 years of research
and investment, according to Debbie Haught,
the general engineer at DOE in charge of superconducting
"(The technology) increases
the amount of power on the system," said Patricia
Hoffman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary
for Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability
at the DOE. "What it ultimately does is it
allows for a smaller right of way, easier
permitting, and smaller sub-stations."
The cables are especially important
in highly congested areas where there isn't
enough space for the larger copper lines,
These transmission cables, manufactured
using American Superconductor's wires, can
carry 138 kilovolts, which can supply up to
574 megawatts of power, enough to electrify
approximately 300,000 homes, according to
American Superconductor's Web site.
Furthermore, there is virtually
no line-loss, or loss of power on the superconducting
transmission cables, according to a statement
from American Superconductor. The company
said traditional transmission lines lose 7%
to 10% of power, due to the inherent electrical
resistance of copper wires.
"This will be a way to move
massive amount of power without disturbing
the surrounding environment," said Greg Yurek,
chief executive officer of American Superconductor.
"It's like putting an energy superhighway
in the middle of a city."
Although the technology holds
tremendous promise, cost is still an issue
for American Superconductor. "If the technology
goes the way it's designed to go and the manufacturing
costs decline, then you get to a point where
the technology makes sense to use," said the
American Superconductor is working
to address the cost issue, according to company
spokesman Jason Fredette. He said the company
began manufacturing its second generation
of the superconducting wire in late 2007.
The bulk of that production is supporting
its work with Project Hydra, an energy security
project funded jointly by the Department of
Homeland Security, Consolidated Edison Inc.
(ED), and American Superconductor, Fredette
Ultimately, Yurek projects that
costs between the superconducting wires used
in cables and traditional copper transmission
lines will be roughly equivalent. "If you
look at installing a cable system using copper
wire in the grid, that cable would cost on
the order of $13 million per mile and a transmission
voltage superconductor would be about the
same per mile at $15 million," he said.
What is clear to all parties
is that growing demand and an aging infrastructure
is creating a need for increased spending.
"We do need a significant investment,"
said DOE's Hoffman. "The issue is we probably
need to invest now rather than waiting to
invest, because it's only going to cost more."
-By Jonathan Shieber, Dow Jones
Newsletters; 201-938-4305; jonathan.shieber@