Superconductor-based Resilient Electric Grid System

July 20, 2014 by Jeff Shepard

AMSC announced that ComEd, a unit of Exelon Corporation, has agreed to develop a deployment plan for AMSC's high-temperature superconductor technology to build a superconducting cable system that will strengthen Chicago's electric grid. The Resilient Electric Grid (REG) effort is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate's work to secure the nation's electric power grids and improve resiliency against extreme weather, acts of terrorism, or other catastrophic events.

“Modernizing our region's electric grid is part of ComEd's vision to strengthen power reliability and to connect our customers and this region to the 21st century digital economy,” said Anne R. Pramaggiore, President and CEO, ComEd. “We view this project as a natural extension of the infrastructure improvements and technological upgrades that have been under way for the past two years as we develop and deploy the smart grid. Linking our critical urban infrastructure to this superconductor system would provide added reliability, resiliency and security to Chicago's Central Business District, an essential economic engine for the state and region.”

The current design of the grid infrastructure in many U.S. cities makes restoration of power after a catastrophic event time-consuming, costly, and unpredictable. Led by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, the Resilient Electric Grid is a self-healing solution that provides resiliency in the event that portions of the grid are lost for any reason. The ComEd installation would be the first commercial application of this advanced technology in the United States.

“We greatly value our partnership with ComEd. As one of the nation's largest utilities, this project establishes ComEd as the lead utility in our program with DHS and speaks to the unique benefits of AMSC's technology in addressing critical challenges facing the power grid,” said AMSC President and CEO Daniel P. McGahn. “As provided in the DHS contract, AMSC will initiate a similar deployment plan with at least two other U.S. utilities.”

McGahn continued, “Utilities around the world are investing tens of billions of dollars on smart grid technology designed in part to create a more redundant and resilient grid. We believe that the Resilient Electric Grid system, which is enabled by AMSC's unique high temperature superconductor technology, has the potential to play a significant role in protecting the infrastructure assets so vital to our electrical systems. Together with the leadership from DHS and ComEd, we believe AMSC is now in a position to offer this system solution to cities in America and around the world.”

“In addition to providing reliable power and increased security, this installation of more than three miles of superconductor cable would create the most extensive superconductor project of this nature in the world,” said Terence R. Donnelly, ComEd's Chief Operating Officer. “ComEd's transformation of our business relies heavily on technology and innovation. In this era of increasingly intense weather events and other potential catastrophic occurrences, this project will not only support the City of Chicago but can serve as a model to enable widespread implementation of the superconductor technology nationally and globally.”

In a typical urban infrastructure, power is produced at plants that are located outside of the city limits. Power from those plants travels through high voltage transmission lines until it reaches a substation, where it is 'stepped down' to distribution voltages before being delivered to homes and businesses. Each substation supplies power to an entire section of a city and, in many U.S. cities, the substations are not connected to each other and therefore cannot back up one another. Furthermore, each substation can handle only a limited amount of capacity. Serving additional load requires either substation expansions or the construction of costly new substations. The Resilient Electric Grid system offers a solution. The system provides the dual benefit of increasing grid reliability while simultaneously increasing grid capacity by accessing existing but previously underutilized substation assets. The key component to the REG system is AMSC's breakthrough HTS cable system that combines with other system design elements to increase the reliability, redundancy, and resiliency of urban power grids, greatly reducing the impact of equipment failure due to aging or cyber-, physical-, or weather-related disasters.