Today’s reality is power substations can lose power from a huge storm leaving thousands of people and potentially manufacturers without power for a long period of time.
That is the reality; the goal, however, is to be able to prevent the outage.
That is where the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) comes in with its partnership with Massachusetts-based firm, AMSC, to develop a new superconductor cable – part of a Resilient Electric Grid (REG) program – that may enable urban utilities to “keep the lights on” during severe events.
During a six-month feasibility study, S&T, worked with AMSC and Chicago electric utility company, Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) to determine the commercial-scale application of the superconductor cable.
Currently, many urban-area electrical substations do not connect to each other because of the amount of copper cables needed to move massive amounts of power as well as the risk of damaging equipment. With the existing infrastructure, if one substation loses power, all electricity in that area is lost until the substation comes back up. The primary goal of S&T’s REG program has been to develop and demonstrate advanced technologies to increase the reliability, flexibility and resilience of the nation’s utility grid.
Using AMSC’s inherently fault current limiting, high temperature superconductor (IFCL-HTS) technology, utility companies are able to connect several substations together to mitigate or prevent disruptions. By allowing stations to share excess capacity during emergencies and reroute power as needed and share assets, the likelihood of power outages for customers reduces, said REG Program Manager Sarah Mahmood.
Capable of carrying ten times as much power as same-size copper wires, the IFCL-HTS cable automatically adapts to power surges and disruptions and resets when conditions return to normal. A single IFCL-HTS cable can replace 12 copper cable bundles, freeing up underground space for other utility needs. This solution combines two technologies, and as a result provides a new capability for resiliency by enabling multiple paths for power flow.
“I am very excited about this,” Mahmood said. “This is a potential game changer. This technology will inherently increase the resiliency, robustness and reliability of the grid.”
S&T’s REG program has three phases. During Phase One, they were able to successfully test and demonstrate the technology at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The fault-current-limiting capabilities of the cable ended up proven and the cable qualified for installation into the nation’s electric grid.
Phase Two, in progress now, involves installing an IFCL-HTS cable in the New York City electric grid to connect two substations together in a pilot demonstration. According to Mahmood, the cable installation will be complete in 2015 and will remain operational for one year to allow S&T to assess its usability. The information gathered here will help determine how to integrate the REG into the utility sector.
In phase three, also in progress now, S&T will work with ComEd and AMSC, to develop a detailed deployment plan for a permanent, operational installation of the technology in Chicago’s central business district. The three organizations will identify and determine solutions to any technical challenges involved with a large commercial level installation of the REG, develop a true scope, cost, and determine system risks and how to mitigate them. While this will be focused primarily on Chicago, S&T and AMSC will more broadly assess integrating the technology across the nation.
“We’re studying the different sites where we want the cable to go so we can get a handle on the engineering requirements,” said Mahmood. “After six months, we’ll have an internal review board with key subject matter experts from different agencies to review the data. Once all parties are on board and financially committed, we will move forward with the project. Should all parties agree to proceed, this commercial-scale effort could dramatically reduce the cost of the cable to the point where it would become a financially feasible technology for all utilities to consider.”