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Superconducting Power Grid Launches In New York

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the so-i-rewired-it dept.

Technology 264

EmagGeek writes "IEEE is running a story about a new superconducting power grid that was energized in April in New York State. The lines operate at 138kV and are cooled to 65-75K to maintain superconductivity. These lines are run underground and can carry 150 times more electricity than copper lines of the same cross section. The project is funded with taxpayer dollars through the Department of Energy." A related story at MarketWatch indicates that this is part of a large-scale effort to upgrade aging infrastructure.

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I'd contribute funds to that... (5, Funny)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162225)

If I could get my pc on the cooling network..... mmmmmm, 65K. Should be enough for anybody!

Re:I'd contribute funds to that... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162301)

No, but 640K is.

I'll let myself out now.

Re:I'd contribute funds to that... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162595)

This is all very well, but how much energy does it cost to keep them so cool?

Superconductors = almost no heat (5, Informative)

DrYak (748999) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162829)

how much energy does it cost to keep them so cool?

Not as much as you may think.

The whole point of using super conductors is that their resistance is incredibly low, almost 0 ohm. They are thus highly efficient and don't lose much energy into heat through Joule effect, compared to classical conductors used in regular power lines. They will naturally stay cool.

So it costs some significant amount of power to cool them down to their working temperature, but once there, the super conductors keep their temperature almost for free, you only have to make up for what is lost because of the insulation.

Similar superconductors are used in the high-field super-magnet inside medial MRI machines. And those machine doesn't need a whole nuclear plant's worth of energy to keep them cool.

Re:Superconductors = almost no heat (3, Informative)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163019)

The whole point of using super conductors is that their resistance is incredibly low, almost 0 ohm.

No, the whole point of using super conductors is that the resistance is EXACTLY 0 ohm, not incredibly near. There is no resistance, at all.

Re:Superconductors = almost no heat (5, Informative)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163103)

But they do have impedance (which often confuses people). They also have radiative losses: some electro-magnetic enegy can, and will, couple into nearby objects and be dissipated there.

Re:I'd contribute funds to that... (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162835)

Presumably less than they were losing on thermal losses before, though I can't find any decent numbers, nor do i have enough details (length, gauge, current) to calculate a guesstimate.

Re:I'd contribute funds to that... (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162921)

If you are an American and work, you most like did. This one was funded by federal taxpayers.

Cool! (4, Funny)

Plazmid (1132467) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162241)

I am going to go find a place where these lines aren't underground and see if I can get my neodymium magnets to levitate on it. Maybe even play some superconducting variant of hockey...

Hmmm... (5, Interesting)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162249)

From TFA:

Besides economics, another advantage the company is touting is that the cables can prevent fault currents, surges that are caused by grid-scale short circuits. Superconductors have an inherent current-limiting ability in that if the current increases past a certain threshold, they lose their superconducting abilities and become normally resistive, damping the current.

Hmm, interesting, but there's more. simply follow the links in TFA and you'll come to these:

"So there's been a stir over the disclosure that AMSC is under investigation by the office of Representative John Dingell, a Democratic congressman from Michigan, one of the most influential U.S. legislators, and an aggressive inquisitor."

"The incident that aroused Dingell's suspicions was the award in 2006 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of a multi-million dollar no-bid contract to AMSC to develop and test what it's calling Secure Super Grids in New York City. Working with the local utility Consolidated Edison Co., AMSC plans to develop and install superconducting cables that would connect substations in a much tighter mesh, so that if stations or feeder cables fail, power can be instantly rerouted. Feeder cable failures were implicated in the 1999 and 2006 New York City neighborhood blackouts."

Wow, I didn't know the DHS was responsible for awarding no-bid contracts to energy interests. There ain't no business like no-bidness!

Re:Hmmm... (1)

Ignis Flatus (689403) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162421)

that's an interesting tidbit. the first thing i wondered about when i read that the benefit is the wires conduct 150 times as much as copper was: "won't you reduce redundancy and make your grid more vulnerable to attack?" but apparently, we can increase redundancy, and maybe do it for the same price. how clever. :)

Re:Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162507)

Have to wonder, indeed, why DHS is involved in handing out contracts for energy research projects to start with when there's already a department for this (ARPA-E) type of research.

http://opencrs.com/document/RL34497

Re:Hmmm... (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162655)

Obviously DARPA and the Department of Energy are commie mutant traitors, requiring DHS oversight. That, and I should cut down on playing Paranoia.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

lgw (121541) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162785)

Is there an in-print or online version of the Paranoia game rules around anywhere? Apparantly Hacknoia turned out to be more like Top Secret than Paranoia.

Re:Hmmm... (2, Insightful)

RAMMS+EIN (578166) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162687)

The Department of Homeland Security is just amazing. I admit I haven't been paying as much attention as I could have, but, so far, I have only heard about _one_ thing they did that I thought would actually...improve homeland security. For the rest, they have embarked on numerous projects that range from interesting to horrible, but that are all very expensive and do little to improve security.

On the one hand, I am glad to see a large portion of the money that DHS gets goes to interesting projects, rather than everything being spent on spying on innocent people. On the other hand, I am sad to see all the things that are done under the (_very_ thin) guise of security...
  If the government wants to sponsor certain pet projects of theirs, why don't they just say they want to sponsor them, because they find them interesting, or some such, instead of trying to pretend it's all in the name of security?

3rd Post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162259)

3rd Post

Wow, !vaporware? (4, Insightful)

martinw89 (1229324) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162279)

With the influx of superconducting [slashdot.org] articles [slashdot.org] I got a pretty good feel of "hight temperature" superconducting being vaporware. It's cool that we're seeing real world applications now. TFA even tries to trick you into not believing the summary by saying they were "commissioned", but if I read correctly they mean "was put on the power grid" by commissioned, not "was approved to be built."

Re:Wow, !vaporware? (4, Funny)

tttonyyy (726776) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162307)

It's cool that we're seeing real world applications now.

Superconducters are way cool man.

Re:Wow, !vaporware? (2, Insightful)

kesuki (321456) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162519)

"I got a pretty good feel of "high temperature" superconducting being vaporware."

You might want to ask anyone who's ever been in a MRI why the dang thing works at all without it's superconducting super magnets.

by 'high temperature' right now we mean somewhere around 90-110K prior to 1986 high temperature meant 'below 22K'
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BSCCO [wikipedia.org] BSCCO is the most common superconductor, at least for lines, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YBCO [wikipedia.org] YBCO is better for super conducting super magnets. at least if I'm understanding the wikis on them correctly.

although, according to some website, they claimed that http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niobium-tin [wikipedia.org] (used with liquid helium cooling) was the superconductor used with MRI machinery.

oh hey, and what about the maglev train in japan, or various ones in germany?? do you honestly think that doing magleg based on normal electromagnets would be energy efficient?

yeah, yeah superconductors that require LN or LH cooling, automatically cost a lot of money, but here's the thing, these LN2 superconductor lines, aren't going to run 24/7 365... they of course are going to load test them, but after that because they're part of a redundant backup power grid setup, they're just going to not cool and not use them, expect when the grid really needs them to not fail.

most likely this project was just to line the pockets of someone who was friends with the right people, since DHS paid for it in a no-bid contract! all the tech on superconductors is fairly simple, we're using them in maglev trains and MRI machines every day...

Re:Wow, !vaporware? (3, Interesting)

martinw89 (1229324) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162757)

IANASCE, but I still can't seem to find any large commercial uses of high temperature superconductivity.

You might want to ask anyone who's ever been in a MRI why the dang thing works at all without it's superconducting super magnets.

According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] and your information, MRIs generally use Liquid helium to cool things down to 4K. That's not a high temperature even in the superconductor world.

oh hey, and what about the maglev train in japan, or various ones in germany?? do you honestly think that doing magleg based on normal electromagnets would be energy efficient?

Only one major Maglev line [wikipedia.org] , the JR-Maglev, uses high temperature superconductors. JR-Maglev [wikipedia.org] is not commercial; it's just research. Currently, there are two major commercial Maglevs [wikipedia.org] , neither of which use high temperature superconductors (let alone any superconducting at all).

These are the reasons I felt that high temperature superconducting is vaporware. It gets a lot of research and demos, but not much real world application. The Japan demo maglev is close, but it was never put in large scale or commercial use. The power grid in TFA seems to be one of the first mass commercial uses of superconducting used. YMMV, someone point out my fail if there have been more uses of high temperature superconductivity in the public space.

Re:Wow, !vaporware? (1)

lgw (121541) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162799)

What I remember from school was that the now-old high-temp superconducting materials were brittle, and therefore difficult to make power lines from. However, that's just an engineering problem, and for buried power lines inside presumably rigid pipes carrying the coolant, perhaps that's not even a difficult problem.

Re:Wow, !vaporware? (2, Informative)

Baron Eekman (713784) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162833)

MRIs are usually built with what are called high-Tc superconductors. Here Tc stands for critical temperature, and means the temperature at which it possibly still superconducts.

But another factor needs to be taken into account: high magnetic fields destroy superconductity, just as high temperature does. So there is also a critical magnetic field (called Hc).

The catch is, that the critical magnetic field depends on temperature: the lower the temperature, the higher a magnetic field is allowed. This is of course quite important if you are building large electromagnets, as in MRI-scanners.

The reason high-Tc superconductors are used for MRIs is that their higher critical temperature is related to the high critical field allowed at low temperatures.

Aside: the reason that only now superconductors are getting to be used in power applications, such as the one mentioned in TFA, is that it is still very expensive, and that large scale production of quality superconducting material is still hard (it is very brittle).

Re:Wow, !vaporware? (2, Interesting)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162975)

In Canada in a place called crowleys ridge I came upon a truck sized super conductor based stabilizer used to connect the wind farm at that location to the power grid.

Not exactly mass market but definitely an application of superconduction.

Cost? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162303)

This article talks a lot about costs but doesn't cite any numbers. A 500 KV distribution line costs about $1 million per mile. What is the cost of these superconducting lines per mile? And from what I've heard the energy savings from using superconducting lines are about twice that what it takes to refrigerate the lines. HVDC distribution can have better energy savings than that without the hassle. This really seems like a waste of money.

Re:Cost? (2, Insightful)

Ignis Flatus (689403) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162435)

what if it's not a matter of cost, but of resources? just assume for a moment that we somehow manage to wean ourselves off of the internal combustion engine and everyone is driving hybrid or full electric vehicles. where are we going to get all that copper from?

Re:Cost? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162593)

bingo, these things are going to become much cheaper than copper in the future.

though, aluminum might be cheaper still.

Re:Cost? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162599)

Who says you have to make motors out of copper?

Alluminum is a great conductor, and we already make engine blocks out it. No shortage there.

How about operating cost? (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162487)

So what is the typical cost per year to keep a mile of 500 KV line running?

Re:Cost? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162689)

According to this [amsc.com] , this line is just 600 meters long and cost 60 million dollars. That comes out to somewhere around $160 million per mile.

Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (1, Interesting)

Zymergy (803632) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162313)

What happens when a 'Terrorist' finds a way to purge/rupture the coolant? *POOF*
What happens if lightning directly strikes the conductor's coolant jacket? Could that cause a coolant jacket leak?

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (4, Interesting)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162503)

Well, in a perfect world (we can at least hope) lines would be kept a bit below theoretical optimum temperature and surrounded with some high thermal mass cladding within the insulation. That would at least buy some time for the system to get repaired. Since you're dealing with a cylindrical cross-section your surface area to volume ratio is at least as good as it can get to minimize heating.
There are many, many ways to build a system to manage loss of coolant, nuclear reactor scrambles being obvious extreme versions. Some of these approaches could be used in a case like this. But we're dealing with Con Ed here, the guys who neglected maintenance such that we ended up having three major blackouts in ten years. So I'm not optimistic. The only thing that we should remember is that at least in theory such problems are somewhat addressable, not least by just the kind of rerouting that this system is supposed to make much easier and faster.

"nuclear reactor scramble"? (1)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163113)

There are many, many ways to build a system to manage loss of coolant, nuclear reactor scrambles being obvious extreme versions.

WTH is a "nuclear reactor scramble"? Wikipedia sheds no light, and not even Google was my friend. In fact, your /. post is the only Google hit for that exact phrase. (I suppose my post will be added to that list soon.:) )

Re:"nuclear reactor scramble"? (2, Informative)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163131)

WTH is a "nuclear reactor scramble"? Wikipedia sheds no light, and not even Google was my friend. In fact, your /. post is the only Google hit for that exact phrase.

Try scram [wikipedia.org] instead.

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (1)

dlevitan (132062) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162513)

What happens when a 'Terrorist' finds a way to purge/rupture the coolant? *POOF*

What happens if lightning directly strikes the conductor's coolant jacket? Could that cause a coolant jacket leak?

It's liquid nitrogen. I doubt that much would happen besides it evaporating and the power line failing.

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (2, Insightful)

cheater512 (783349) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162529)

Erm. Underground?
I'd like to see lightning hit down there.

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (4, Informative)

lgw (121541) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162823)

Underground power cables are struck by lightning amazingly often - I think more often than high-tension lines. Lighting strikes originate quite deep - given they cross 8 km of air gap, several meters of damp earth should come as no surprise.

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (3, Interesting)

FTL (112112) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162533)

People have been blowing up conventional electricity pylons for decades. They make great targets because a single tower collapse takes out the whole circuit. Of course we call them 'heroes' not 'terrorists', but the principle is the same: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9501EFDC1330F935A15757C0A9669C8B63&sec=&spon= [nytimes.com]

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (3, Funny)

megaditto (982598) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162881)

The Germans arrested him early in 1942, but let him go for lack of evidence.

That's where they nazis lost it. They should have just rounded up all suspects and put them in a freedom camp or something.

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (0)

jonfr (888673) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162579)

A terrorist, the one you think of lives in caves or other primitive surroundings. They usually just send out threats on the internet via proxy, usually somebody how has 56kbps dial up in the middle east.

What you should worry about is the crazy people in your home country.

Also, far as I can see the worst thing that can happen if someone tries to damage this cable is that DHS ends up with one electrified terrorist and maybe one or two months of repair work to be done.

Lets just hope that they put in place some real backups in the case the cable fails, for whatever reason.

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (1)

pimpimpim (811140) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162677)

Forget terrorists. The added logistical complexity to keep the low temperature on the whole network will do it all for you.

These are *superconductor* (2, Informative)

DrYak (748999) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162857)

The added logistical complexity to keep the low temperature on the whole network will do it all for you.

As I said a couple of threads above [slashdot.org] , the whole point of using superconductors is that they have almost 0 ohm resistance. They can't heat up through Joule effect. They keep cool for free.

You only have to make up for whats lost through the insulation. That's it.

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (3, Informative)

lgw (121541) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162839)

Of course, a terrorist could blow up any sort of power line with a big enough bomb, but so what - there are far higher-value targets.

Aside from bombs, a coolant leak would be easily stopped in the short term by a water jacket. Do you know how you insulate liquid helium pipes in a lab? You pump liquid helium through them, and a 4 inch thick layer of ice forms in a few minutes, insulating the pipes just fine. At higher temperatures you'd want to provide the water, but I'd bet liquid nitrogen escaping through a layer of water would self-seal very quickly.

Lightning strikes are a problem for all buried power cables, but it's a well-solved engineering problem.

Re:Possible new 'Terrorism' target? (0, Flamebait)

archont (1215492) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163067)

What happens when a 'Terrorist' finds a way to purge/rupture the coolant?

We invade Iran!

still a problem though (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162317)

So now they can blackout even faster lol. Remember the 1976 blackout or whatever? Yeah, they still haven't fixed the system's logic that caused that. If anything this makes it worse, although more efficient transmission is always good. But that of course makes me wanna wonder how much energy it takes to keep it cooled that low indefinitely. It is cooled by some sort of energy like a compressor or something, right?

Saving Energy (4, Interesting)

dlevitan (132062) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162325)

Maybe the US will now leapfrog from an antiquated power distribution system to the most advanced in the world. Maybe. One positive aspect of this is the reduction of energy loss due to the superconductivity. This may also allow long distance lines to be run (even though the cooling will be a problem) which might help balance out the grid when needed.

According to Wikipedia, super conducting cables will use roughly half the energy saved for cooling, but since losses are around 7%, that's still a rather high amount of energy saved.

Re:Saving Energy (2, Interesting)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162537)

I keep wondering about that number re cooling costs. How much is that affected by insulation? By how close to capacity the lines are run at? By scheduled maintenence? I dunno about you, but in my experience, operating costs of complex systems are very subject to change. And seeing how much money the contractors stand to make from building these, they're going to tend to estimate low on cost and high on efficiency, just as they have for nuclear power plants, incineration plants, and so on.
Am I saying that the lossiness and cooling costs numbers are too optimistic? For now, probably yes. But in terms of thinking of the long term promise of the technology, those numbers are probably too pessimistic to at least the same degree.

Re:Saving Energy (2, Informative)

dkf (304284) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163179)

One positive aspect of this is the reduction of energy loss due to the superconductivity. This may also allow long distance lines to be run (even though the cooling will be a problem) which might help balance out the grid when needed.

Cooling is indeed a problem, but it's a problem for normal underground power cables too. Yes, normal cables don't need to be so cold, but they also generate a lot more heat that needs to be got rid of. What's interesting is that overall switching to superconducting cables is still a win (they wouldn't be rolling it into production if they didn't think that) even after considering increased capital costs, and that they can push those sorts of voltages and currents through high-temperature superconductors. Neat stuff!

I don't think this is competitive with above ground cables yet; they're enormously cheaper IIRC both to build and maintain (but can't be used everywhere). As such, most of the world's power infrastructure won't change for a while.

How long is it? (2, Informative)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162331)

If I'm reading this article [reuters.com] correctly, American Superconductor is in the process of making a 50 meter prototype to be completed before the end of the year. Next year through 2010, they'll construct a 300 meter span that will connect two substations on Manhattan Island.

reliability ? (3, Insightful)

cats-paw (34890) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162333)

To a large extent good old passive wires make for quite a robust system.

However with the addition of all the support equipment necessary for LN2, doesn't this make for a step
backward in terms of reliability ?

Decentralized power production, e.g., solar, still seems like a more worthwhile idea to me.

Re:reliability ? (1)

Socguy (933973) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162447)

I hear what you're saying and I agree with you. My only point would be that any system is only as good as the maintenance the operator puts into it. Sure, old hanging copper may require proportionately less, but if this supercooled system is properly maintained it should be as reliable as the old system, (baring new technology hiccups.)

Re:reliability ? (3, Informative)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162549)

One of the characteristic sights on New York City streets is big tanks of liquid nitrogen standing on the sidewalk, steaming away, with lines running from them down a manhole. Why? Because, iirc, many of the telephone company switching systems already run supercooled and when a repair needs to be done they need supplementary chilling.
You might be surprised how little different it would be to have power lines running superconducting in parts of NYC. With the vastly complex infrastructure already in place, doing these lines might not be all that big a deal in some ways.

Re:reliability ? (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162771)

As an ex-cold box designer (cold boxes create liquid air, liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen - I could explain, but what's the point) I welcome this development, more work for me!

Unfortunately your theory is silly. Liquid nitrogen is quite expensive and effectively insulating a system such as you imagine is, well, impractical and not affordable.

You might be surprised how little different it would be to have power lines running superconducting in parts of NYC. With the vastly complex infrastructure already in place, doing these lines might not be all that big a deal in some ways.

Oh really? From which nether region did you pull that one from? Is this the same city that has underground steam pipe explosions from time to time?

Are you 14 and armed with Wikipedia?

Re:reliability ? (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162871)

I guess that depends how you define expensive. I see prices for LN from $0.50 to $3 per gallon depending on location, though I have no idea how much is used for this kind of thing.

Re:reliability ? (2, Interesting)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162957)

In order to keep liquid nitrogen from just boiling off (relatively) extreme insulation is required. Liquid hydrogen is much worse in this regard.

In cold boxes (which feature pretty complex, closely-packed piping) we'd use at least 12" of perlite insulation from exterior heat sources. For critical individual lines you're talking about vacuum jacketing with at least a 1" vacuum annular space and special shielding, which is what those "high-tech", stainless steel containers are (sort of). These containers and the similar piping are incredibly expensive to fabricate and install.

The notion that "supercooling" with liquefied gases anywhere outside of labs and special installations is just absurd.

But wait! Cryogenics were used to create the A-bomb, so there MUST be a conspiracy there!

Re:reliability ? (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163077)

Oh, NOW I get it. You think that I'm not actually seeing liquid nitrogen tanks. That "supercooling" with liquefied gases anywhere outside of labs and special installations is just absurd.
Oh. You're convinced that your theory trumps my reality.
Okay, now that I know the nature of your clue-impairment, I went to Flickr and it took me all of about five seconds to find this [flickr.com] and this [flickr.com] and this [flickr.com] and, oh, whatever. I guess that somebody's just working really hard to fake what I think I'm seeing. I would ask you to explain it to me but you seem a little het up. Maybe you just need to sit down and have a nice cup of tea. Btw, for future reference, I used to get great results cooling mine off with liquid nitrogen. The professor in charge of our lab used to love to watch it jump out of the top of my cup. Should I explain to you why that happens?

Re:reliability ? (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163149)

If I was still in the business I could give you the exact model numbers for those storage units. Many of them were made by MVE. I still don't see what you're ranting about.

LN2 can be used as an inerting gas, or, yes, possibly to freeze stuff temporarily (it's been used to perform pipeline isolation, if you care to look it up - Google Stopple). To claim that these large dewars are there to maintain some kind of positive cryo pressure/flow for secret underground services is a stretch. But if you've already decided, I'll never be able to change your mind.

Re:reliability ? (1)

RustinHWright (1304191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163037)

This post, I do not think it means what you think it means.
Okay, first of all, I have no idea what "theory" you think I put forward that you needed to so manfully deride.
It's nice to see that somebody has already addressed your "expensive liquid nitrogen" line. And, frankly, it sounds to me like YET AGAIN we have a case here of somebody who didn't RTFA.
Did I misuse the term "supercooled" as it is used in your little world? Because that is, indeed, the term I have heard used more than once from people who do this for a living.
Maybe you either have no idea of the amount of capital that is normal for work like this, or you didn't read "in some ways" in my post or you're yet another person who, because you've gotten used to only working in an obsessively precise environment with absolutely specialized equipment and order your paper towels in individually certified packets by FedEx from Black Box at ten dollars a sheet, you've forgotten that out here in the rest of the world, much of this can be done far, far cheaper. You want to argue costs on keeping things at the relevant temperatures? Talk to the folks at American Semiconductor. Or, for that matter, the offices of IEEE Spectrum, where, iirc, they know a little bit about physics and system design, too.
Obviously you're right. Nothing can be kept at liquid nitrogen temperatures in any container costing less than fifty thousand dollars. Evidently when we used to carry the stuff around in styrofoam picnic coolers we were somehow exempt from the laws of physics. But, hell, we never took it that seriously since the couple thousand dollar beastie in the lab above us could always make us a few more gallons, so it just wasn't that big a deal. But then, this was 1982. Maybe the technology just isn't able to handle that kind of demand anymore.
As for "the same city that has steam tunnel explosions", yeah, it is. That's part of what these lines are supposed to replace. If you had read the article you might know that.

Re:reliability ? (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163107)

I guess I struck a nerve. My apologies for making you so upset with my real-world experience in the business of gas liquefaction and transport.

If I may be so bold to ask, what's your background regarding cryogenics and industrial gases?

That's part of what these lines are supposed to replace. If you had read the article you might know that.

OK, so now you're an expert on pipeline rehabilitation.

Re:reliability ? (4, Informative)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163165)

One of the characteristic sights on New York City streets is big tanks of liquid nitrogen standing on the sidewalk, steaming away, with lines running from them down a manhole. Why? Because, iirc, many of the telephone company switching systems already run supercooled and when a repair needs to be done they need supplementary chilling.

Those nitrogen tanks are used by Verizon to pressurize underground telephone cables and keep moisture out:

http://gothamist.com/2008/01/31/nitrogen_tanks.php [gothamist.com]

Re:reliability ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162555)

bacteria are much more robust than humans. yes, simple things are robust. because there are very few ways to mess with them. but that also means that they are less capable. a single such system may not make a significant difference but given enough time and multiplicity, it will prove to be much more useful.

Re:reliability ? (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162703)

Well, direct solar heating (say, for water) is much more efficient than solar electrical generation that then powers an electrical heater. Since (essentially) everyone consumes hot water, it would make much more sense to directly generate, then store, the desired end result than generate multiple intermediate steps that are less efficient and more expensive. The reduction in demand for electricity should rapidly produce greater savings than the cost of setting up such a distributed network. (Solar heaters are so efficient, they're even used in Wales, not a country known for masses of sunlight.)

There's also the matter of nuclear fusion. Yes, there isn't a working design yet, but if you invested enough into getting one, that's just a matter of time. We already have an idea of what the exterior superstructure would need to be, in terms of scale and design. Given that just building that would take many years, there's no reason not to do that in parallel.

Lastly, there's one small issue I have with these superconducting cables. 77K? There are superconductors that operate at something like 2-2.5 times that temperature! Are these guys wanting to prove it can't be done?

Re:reliability ? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162825)

(Solar heaters are so efficient, they're even used in Wales, not a country known for masses of sunlight.)

I used to have a solar water heater in Melbourne at 37 degrees south. In the winter it would deliver warm water at best. In the winter in the UK I doubt it would be any good at all.

Lastly, there's one small issue I have with these superconducting cables. 77K? There are superconductors that operate at something like 2-2.5 times that temperature! Are these guys wanting to prove it can't be done?

High temperature superconductors tend to lose their conductivity in the presence of a magnetic field, which limits their current handling ability. Also the materials are quite brittle.

Just the thing we need, 150x power usage (2, Insightful)

noidentity (188756) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162363)

These lines are run underground and can carry 150 times more electricity than copper lines of the same cross section.

These will go perfect with a 150x increase in power plant construction!

Re:Just the thing we need, 150x power usage (2, Informative)

Shadow-isoHunt (1014539) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162849)

I don't know if you're being sarcastic or not, but the lower impedance means that we'll get more efficient transfer out of the power we're already distributing, decreasing the current load on the grid.

Rumor has it (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162367)

that this may be enough power to run the machines that we will play Duke Nukem Forever on.

Forget wires (2, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162373)

We need to move towards generating electricity locally, instead of trying to generate it all in one place and then move it to where needed.

Re:Forget wires (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162401)

That's kinda unsafe in general. Aren't at least some of your neighbors dumb/crazy enough that they should not be trusted with kilowatts of localized power in their backyard?

Re:Forget wires (2, Insightful)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162463)

Aren't at least some of your neighbors dumb/crazy enough that they should not be trusted with kilowatts of localized power in their backyard?

You mean apart from the kilowatts available on every electrical outlet in the house?

Re:Forget wires (2, Interesting)

Duncan Blackthorne (1095849) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162577)

What about if photovoltaic research increases the efficiency of solar cells to the point where having a roof full of them supplies more power than your house would ever need (even if, say, you were doing arc welding in your garage)? What about advances in hyrdogen fuel cell technology to the point where your water heater is replaced by a combination unit that heats water for your house, and also supplies electricity, yet still runs off of natural gas (BTW this is available in Japan as we speak)? These technologies aren't very far off now, and the combination of them, plus high efficiency batteries for storage of excess power generated would give every homeowner the option of being completely off the grid.

Re:Forget wires (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162847)

Who said they should get them in the first place? *evilsmile*

I say if they insist on it, we'll first put the warning labels off, and then let the problem solve itself. *evenmoreevilsmile*

Re:Forget wires (1)

ya really (1257084) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162915)

One could always siphon off power right now with an antenna if they're close enough to a power line, making for a dangerous situation, though that would be illegal. I do not condone it, but I doubt the electric company would notice, since it's power they write off as the result of transmission. Essentially, it's illegal to harvest power that's being wasted via leakage from the lines. I guess it's sort of like "dumpster diving."

"Hey, we're throwing this away, but no, you can't have it; it's our garbage, not yours!"

Re:Forget wires (1)

martinw89 (1229324) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162821)

For the current predominant methods of power generation, economies of scale outweigh the cost of grid infrastructure as well as being more efficient. For example, 60 - 90 meter tall wind turbines are hard to place locally. It is more economical and efficient to use places where these tall towers can be placed. Similar problems occur for fossil fuels, nuclear, wave, etc.

The only thing I can think of that might be different is solar, where bigger or more panels don't seem to up efficiency that much.

Re:Forget wires (2, Interesting)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162865)

For places with high-density population such as Manhattan, generating locally isn't feasible for now, and won't be for a long time to come. Improving the grid here is worthwhile.

Re:Forget wires (4, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163089)

I disagree. Large-scale power distribution is pretty much always more efficient. Even if you are talking about solar, then large-scale sun-tracking mirrors focussing on central elements is more efficient than individual scattered cells. The problem, currently, is that you lose a lot of what you gain when you transmit it a long way. If you have superconducting wires then it becomes possible to convert a large part of the Sahara desert into a solar array and supply all of Europe, and do the same with plants in the middle of the US for cities on the edge.

This is only a 150 metre prototype, but if the technology scales then it will have a major effect on the economics of power distribution.

Re:Forget wires (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24163189)

nukular@home, huh?

OK - 150x capacity, BUT: (0)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162397)

how much energy does it take to cool those lines to that insanely cold value? In a standard copper line the value is zero: we don't cool them... So the cooling of the line from generator to user must be very energy efficient. Like, a lot. Somehow, given what I know of Thermodynamics, I kind of have my doubts this is of any real value. I could be wrong, but my back of te nvelope calculations tell me this is a boondoggle- i.e. something right up the poop shoot for halliburton.

Re:OK - 150x capacity, BUT: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162453)

I could be wrong, but my back of te nvelope calculations tell me this is a boondoggle- i.e. something right up the poop shoot for halliburton.

Care to show us the back of your envelope?

Re:OK - 150x capacity, BUT: (1)

Socguy (933973) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162477)

I don't have exact numbers but I do know that power loss, sometimes referred to as line loss, can be quite significant. I assume this extra expense in cooling is more than offset by transmission gains. If not, then I'm sure someone will be kind enough to explain the benefits of this system.

Re:OK - 150x capacity, BUT: (3, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162627)

In a standard copper line the value is zero: we don't cool them

Conventional underground transmission lines are oil cooled. Superconducting transmission lines have almost zero resistance and should require less cooling once they reach working temperature.

Re:OK - 150x capacity, BUT: (2, Informative)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162807)

Correct on all accounts.

And additionally, oil cooling of traditional powerlines is nasty business, because these lines get hot, and sometimes so hot that the oil boils and/or hydrolizes, and when THAT happens, you have carbon - which is conductive - and then, well, you got yourself a blackout.

Re:OK - 150x capacity, BUT: (2, Insightful)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163125)

Until they get unsealed, or need maintenance. Cooling them down is not a one-off: I've no idea how often they may have to be cycled, but repairs and maintenance demand that they be warmed up on some kind of expectable basis.

Re:OK - 150x capacity, BUT: (1)

QuantumTheologian (1155137) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162717)

Power = Voltage times Current. Assuming Ohm's Law is valid in this situation, that means the power loss goes as P = Current squared times resistance. The whole point of superconducting power lines is that the resistance is zero, meaning transmission loss is zero. I'm not sure how much energy will be required to maintain the liquid nitrogen infrastructure, nor how long it will take for the energy savings from using this system will repay the cost of building the infrastructure. On the other hand, it will have to be replaced eventually, so this is less of a concern.

Superconducting power grid (1)

Christian Thinker (1316185) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162445)

Presumably a superconducting cable wastes less power than a copper one. Has anyone estimated how much energy the USA would save if, for the sake of argument, all the grid used superconductor cables like the ones in this article?

Re:Superconducting power grid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162525)

According to http://resources.schoolscience.co.uk/CDA/16plus/copelech1pg1.html

Copper has a 28% efficiency rating.
Above it was stated that the new cables have a 7% efficiency.
A nice 21% gain on the replaced lines.

what's the cooling method ? (1)

cathector (972646) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162545)

in the lab you get things cold by pouring liquid nitrogen on them; that doesn't seem feasible w/ miles of line, so what's the method ? peltiers ?

RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162743)

Basically, one long, insulated pipe filled with liquid nitrogen, with the superconducting cables running through the middle.

And WTF is with your adding spaces before your question marks? Did you fail English or something?

Super cool ain't so hot (0, Flamebait)

dontmakemethink (1186169) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162565)

How much is saved by carrying 150x as much vs. the cost of refrigerating the conduits to 65K?

Last I checked, refrigeration was not an especially efficient process, especially with large exposed surface areas such as a long series of wires.

But that's ok, it's just 65 Kelvin, can't be that cold, it's a double-digit number just like we're used to, just a K instead of and F or a C.

65K is -340F fer fucks sake! That underground wire's surroundings average about 50F, so it's cooled by a matter of 390F to get it to superconducting levels!

Heating it is much easier with well established industrial componentry. Could you imagine heating a lengthy wire by 390F to 440F 24/7 just to get better conductivity? Cooling it to 65K requires customized experimental cryogenic gear costing WAY more!

There is no way the superconductivity savings outweigh the costs of refrigerating the line. Any reasonable scientist would have determined this on paper long before implementation. This is clearly some ridiculously over-privileged geek's science fair project at best.

SDI anybody? (0, Offtopic)

Iloinen Lohikrme (880747) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162637)

Has anybody thought that this project might be, at least partly, about building SDI defense to cities? If you want to take ballistic missiles with laser then that laser needs enormous amounts of energy. Having an superconducting power grid would allow routing of the needed energy to the laser system... and hey, if this world would be a game of Civilization, New York along with Washington, would be the first places to have the SDI defense city improvement :)

Real world apps, geeky nerdy physicists (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162665)

This is obvious proof that those back-lab R&D experiments aren't just the realm of fanciful experiments but also produce real world applications. Of course history is laden (like a swallow) with plenty of examples about this. However, it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy to see countless hours of lab coats getting applied to help humanity,.

And in further news (2, Interesting)

CharlieG (34950) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162693)

ConEd (NYC's electric supplier) got approvale for a 23% rate increase yesterday

Fremont without powerlines (1)

heroine (1220) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162887)

What would happen if the Fremont power line nest was replaced by 3 underground superconductors? 1000 houses would suddenly appear from under the wires & jump to $5 million. For the first time in 50 years, Automall Pkwy residents could see the sky.

If you like the concept of solar in the desert (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162901)

You'll love the superconducting lines that can actually get that energy out of the desert. Conventional lines do not have the capacity to go extremely long distances.

How does it have voltage if it's superconducting? (1)

Hays (409837) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162927)

I must misunderstand something. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superconductor) says

"The simplest method to measure the electrical resistance of a sample of some material is to place it in an electrical circuit in series with a current source I and measure the resulting voltage V across the sample. The resistance of the sample is given by Ohm's law as R = V/I. If the voltage is zero, this means that the resistance is zero and that the sample is in the superconducting state."

So, no voltage implies no resistance implies superconductivity. But the reverse isn't true? We have a cable that has superconductivity yet still has voltage?

Re:How does it have voltage if it's superconductin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24162969)

You are measuring the difference of electrical potential (voltage) on both ends of the suposedly super conducting sample since it is super conducting there is no difference --> voltage = zero ("means nothing was lost through resistance"). You can never measure a voltage over both ends of a super conductor. (You can measure zero voltage over a material with resisting properties only if the current flowing trough it is zero, too)

Re:How does it have voltage if it's superconductin (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162993)

So, no voltage implies no resistance implies superconductivity. But the reverse isn't true? We have a cable that has superconductivity yet still has voltage?

There is a potential difference between the cable and ground because the cable is insulated from ground, ie, there is no superconductor to ground.

There is no potential difference along the cable because it has no resistance.

Re:How does it have voltage if it's superconductin (1)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163133)

Excuse me, but it's a _transmission line_, miles long. Of course the voltage differs at various points along its length, bound to the magnetic fields along its lengths as well carrying the EM transmission.

Just because it's 0 resistance does not mean it is 0 impedance: remember this especially when working with long leads of any sort.

Re:How does it have voltage if it's superconductin (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163159)

Yes, point taken.

Dumb question (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#24162951)

Being near high tension lines tend to cause interference in radio signals. More static, etc. This has almost zero resistance. So, does that mean less interference? In addition, by putting "receivers" close to high-tension lines, you can take energy from it. What is interesting is that it causes local heating on the lines. So, can somebody use some copper coils to do the same to these? If so, then it could be used to increase local heat to the point of causing a cascade loss; i.e. here is a way to bring down a line, and causes a massive release of energy. Is this true?

Re:Dumb question (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163011)

Being near high tension lines tend to cause interference in radio signals. More static, etc. This has almost zero resistance. So, does that mean less interference?

No. The transmission line will still radiate an AC electromagnetic field at 60Hz, but the cable housing around it may prevent that from creating interference.

In addition, by putting "receivers" close to high-tension lines, you can take energy from it. What is interesting is that it causes local heating on the lines. So, can somebody use some copper coils to do the same to these? If so, then it could be used to increase local heat to the point of causing a cascade loss; i.e. here is a way to bring down a line, and causes a massive release of energy. Is this true?

An external field can induce current in the superconducting line but that won't cause heating because the line has no resistance. Superconductors can lose their superconductivity in the presence of a magnetic field so I suppose it is possible to bring the line down in a way similar to the one you describe.

New York's Next Project... (2, Funny)

goodEvans (112958) | more than 6 years ago | (#24163033)

Supercooled water mains!

Wait...

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