From Environmental Capital:
Increasing reliance on renewable energy from wind and solar farms might not necessarily mean the construction of thousands of new transmission towers stretching across the American landscape.
That’s because of a technology called superconducting cable, that could be the recipient of federal assistance that would speed its deployment.
Superconducting cable has for at least two decades struggled to prove its mettle and win big utility contracts from the power industry, which is notoriously slow to adopt new technology.
But the technology won a powerful friend this week when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s introduced on Tuesday two bills (HR 2347 and HR 2348) that authorize the federal government to cover half the cost of high-voltage transmission projects, at least 300 miles in length, that employ advanced cable technology. Mr. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, also would offer accelerated depreciation (five years, not 20) and special incentives for domestic manufacturing of advanced cable systems.
Superconducting cable, one type of advanced cable, is able to move large amounts of energy in a small space and more efficiently because bundles of special, low-resistance wire run through pipes chilled with liquid nitrogen which brings the temperature down to minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit. In effect, it provides a more slippery medium for moving electricity than conventional copper or aluminum wire whose efficiency degrades as they heat up.
Power losses are reduced by about two thirds with superconducting material, according to American Superconductor Inc., one of the companies that designs superconducting wire and would benefit from advanced cable deployments. Another possible benefactor is Sumitomo Electric Co. of Japan. Other companies that make composite cores with ceramic-like material also could gain more visibility.
Currently, wire designed by American Superconductor is being used by three utilities — Long Island Power Authority, American Electric Power Co. and National Grid—in small projects in New York and Ohio. The distances are short and voltages aren’t as high as what would be necessary to move large sums of electricity from, say, wind farms on the Great Plains to large cities in the east or from solar farms in the desert Southwest to cities on the Pacific Coast....MORE