Putting a Chill on Electricity Transmission and Distribution Losses

High-temperature superconductor (HTS) wire transmits 100 times the electricity of a standard copper wire of equal size and it does so with virtually no loss. HTS wire costs more than conventional copper wire used today. Electricity transmission and distribution losses in the United States are approximately 6.5% as of 2007. HTS cabling is a quality investment as it will be less expensive long term, less intrusive in terms of infrastructure, and more secure than conventional cabling today.

Despite the high-temperature moniker, it is worth noting that in order to function, HTS wire must be cooled to -320 degrees F (-196 C). Relative to the required -460 degrees F (-273 C) for low-temperature superconductor (LTS) technology, it is high-temperature. This difference is relevant because the high-temperature is warmer than the boiling point of nitrogen, meaning nitrogen gas can be used to cool the wire.

HTS cable is basically HTS wire enclosed with a cooling system. Nitrogen can be captured on location from the atmosphere as needed. HTS cabling is intended to be installed underground, increasing the aesthetic value compared to conventional cabling today. Replacing existing cable installations with HTS cable allows for greater transmission without the need for additional infrastructure space. This is crucial in metropolitan areas where the subterranean landscape is already crowded with utilities and transportation. Imagine the energy requirements for a parking garage filled with electric cars and remember that HTS wire can transmit 100 times more electricity than a conventional wire of the same size today.

The footprint for long distance HTS cables should be less than 5% of the right-of-way requirements today. This becomes all the more significant as renewable energy resources are often scattered far from existing transmission infrastructure. Being underground also insulates HTS cable from environmental threats ranging from global weather to radiation from solar activity and even physical attack.

HTS cabling can also provide security from blackouts. The nature of HTS wire, if not cooled, is that it will revert to being a resistor and effectively block the transmission of electricity. This is done through a fault current limiter (FCL) which acts much like a circuit breaker acts today.

HTS cabling could change the way the landscape looks or at least keep it from being more crowded with cabling. Security is enhanced with the use of HTS cabling. Without considering additional ramifications such as the carbon footprint of the 6.5% of electricity wasted in transmission and distribution, consider the impact on you. If you pay $100 for electricity every month then you pay $78 annually to cover the 6.5% loss. You pay almost one month extra to cover the 6.5% loss. Electricity rates are forecast to continue rising. In the next 5 years, the amount you pay for the 6.5% loss annually could surpass the amount you are paying for one month of electricity today. Like so many things, an investment in HTS cabling for infrastructure today will bring a greater return tomorrow.

Article by Adrian King, appearing courtesy Justmeans.

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