Public Utilities Reports

PUR Guide 2012 Fully Updated Version

Available NOW!
PUR Guide

This comprehensive self-study certification course is designed to teach the novice or pro everything they need to understand and succeed in every phase of the public utilities business.

Order Now

Superconductors: Coming Soon to a Grid Near You?

Transmission constraints and technology developments may hasten emerging applications.
Fortnightly Magazine - January 15 2001

maintainable and operated," says Bernie Ziemianek, product line director at EPRI.

And while the project technically is a test, its results might be more than that ultimately. "It's a test, but it could turn into being a full-time power transfer cable," Ziemianek says.

Superconductor cable is one area where newcomer IGC SuperPower could compete with American Superconductor down the road. The primary difference between the two companies is that while American Superconductor has embraced first-generation technology to move full-steam ahead in getting several products to market, IGC has focused on second-generation technology, with the intention of entering the market in three or four years.

Still, IGC is well into the demonstration phase. Using the high-tech cable on the customer side in this case, the company has installed a 100-foot-long, 12.5-kilovolt superconducting power cable at the headquarters of Southwire Co., itself a wire and cable manufacturer. Installation was completed and the cable connected to a live load last February, powering three of Southwire's manufacturing plants.

"We look at it as the first major installation that's being run on a continuous basis on a commercial site for cable installation," says IGC SuperPower's Haldar.

And Haldar makes no apologies for his company's delayed market entry. "[Introduction of IGC's product] is further down the road, but we think it's going to have a much [broader] application because the costs are going to be a lot lower."

What is IGC's reaction to American Superconductor's pending accomplishments in Detroit with its first-generation technology? "We think it's great for the industry, and for us, too. That is a necessary next step," says Haldar.

On the Horizon: More Players Eye Slice of the Pie

For both companies, the applications don't end with cables and D-SMES. American Superconductor is touting its older SMES technology for power quality on the customer side, and notes that its applications run the gamut of the energy industry: generation, transmission, and usage. For its motors program, the company has teamed with Rockwell Automation. Superconductors can shrink the size of motors, bringing down cost, and also increase efficiency somewhat.

In the works at IGC, meanwhile, is the fault current controller, a product that offers a flip-side reliability solution to American Superconductor's SMES product. Whereas the American Superconductor devices protect against voltage drops, IGC's product would protect against power surges; in essence it will be a high-tech, giant version of the surge protector commonly used to safeguard a personal computer. According to IGC, Lockheed Martin estimates a potential domestic market in this area of between $3 billion and $7 billion during the next 15 years.

IGC also has teamed with major transformer manufacturer Waukesha Electric Systems to produce a superconducting transformer. "A lot of the transformers in the U.S. are reaching the end of their useful life," says Haldar. "Some of them were installed 30, 40 years ago. So there's a bubble that's going to happen over the next five, 10 years in terms of trying to replace these transformers."

The superconducting nature of the transformers makes them half the size and weight of a conventional transformer. Also,