Technology has changed enormously since Westinghouse and Edison and continues to change. HVDC is widely and expertly applied in China, Siberia, and elsewhere; ABB and others are making it much cheaper in undersea or underground cables. The whole system is changing, including power electronics, cables, and conductors. Most changes are well known, but at least one is not:
A Los Angeles firm with which I’m entering an advisory relationship (so I’m no longer independent with regard to it), TS Conductor, has been making and selling in China (to State Grid, Southern Grid,), and by mid-2022 plans to make and offer in the US, a new kind of transmission conductor with 2–3x the ampacity of today’s steel-core aluminum-stranded conductors. This means grid bottlenecks could be quickly relieved (and renewable deployment therefore accelerated) in existing Rights-of-Way by routinely reconductoring existing lines on the same towers—something utilities do all the time but that the new conductor technology makes far more valuable.
The net-present-value cost of reconductoring is negative due to reduced losses. In newbuild, up-front cost may go slightly up or significantly down (because fewer or shorter towers, usually made of now-costly steel, are needed for the same ampacity), but NPV cost is again substantially negative, i.e., the installation is profitable.
What makes all this possible is a new conductor that uses a solid carbon-fiber-composite rather than a stranded steel core to carry the mechanical tension. The composite is many fold lighter than steel, yet stronger. Protected by an annealed aluminum tube (solving issues with previous attempts), this enables the line to carry far more aluminum—which also has a better fill factor because its spiraling strands have a square rather than the traditional round cross-section. Surprisingly, the resulting conductor bends/flexes better than a steel-core one over both big radii (such as a spool) and short ones (over a sharp edge). The new conductor also installs with today’s standard equipment, tools, and training—it’s a drop-in replacement. Its greater resistance to sag adds resilience and reliability in our emerging world of hotter weather and bigger, more frequent, and longer overloads.
Planned next is a fiber-optic sensor, cheap to incorporate into the pultruded conductor and to read out in the control room using mass-produced equipment now used to read out downhold fiber sensors in fracking wells. This fiber-optic sensor will indicate real-time, real-position sag, strain (e.g., from wind loads), and temperature all along the line, enabling operators to load to actual real-time capacity rather than some worst-case assumption-based spec. Any fault location will also be immediately indicated within a few meters. This seems to me a valuable further way to stretch transmission capabilities.
This seems to me important and novel information for utilities, regulators, regional grid operators, and federal officials considering how to spend new funds to expand grids. The potential to defer or avoid major new Rights-of-Way negotiations/litigation/hassle/risk seems to me an important new tool to strengthen transmission far sooner, cheaper, and more surely than was thought possible.
Anyone interested should kindly contact CEO Jason Huang, firstname.lastname@example.org, referencing me, and make your own inquiries.
Best — Amory Lovins