Monday, March 22, 2010

Superconducting Power Lines

A great idea if they can be made to work: buried, superconducting power lines:

Scientists at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an electric industry-funded nonprofit focused on technology, said in a new report that a superconducting cable system could be ready for commercial development within a decade. Moreover, they said it’s an important technology to consider, given the challenge of greater reliance on renewable energy. Areas with great potential for wind and solar power are often in remote regions far from population centers. Super-chilled wires could efficiently shuttle thousands of megawatts of electricity from distant sites to cities, said the EPRI report. . . .

Another advantage of such a system is it would be buried underground. Proponents say that out-of-sight transmission projects would face less opposition than the traditional power towers. This month, for example, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power dropped plans for an 85-mile, U.S.$800 million transmission line designed to convey electricity from remote solar, geothermal and nuclear plants in the southeastern California desert and Arizona. The project faced fierce opposition from environmentalists opposed to erecting 16-foot (5-meter) pylons across the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, the San Bernardino National Forest and other preservation areas.

Of course, buried superconducting transmission lines would face their own challenges. The wires would be encased in liquid-nitrogen filled tubes to keep them cool. Refrigerators also would have to be interspersed every few miles.

One of the businessmen interviewed for this story says his company will be able to build these lines for about the same cost as conventional overhead lines, on the order of $10 million per mile.

I, for one, take great delight in imagining a future world with no overhead power lines, so if this can really be made to work, hallelujah.

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