Kathleen Davis, Associate Editor
So you became evil overnight. That’s not unusual; there are a lot of evil people in the world. Now, if you decide to become a supervillian–the kind with the well-lit, fully-stocked island lair vis-
In fact, it seems we know that all too well. In a summer of reliability and regulatory upheaval where Mother Nature, all by her little lonesome, has brought the entire state of California to its knees, the technology required to run a well-oiled evil empire would definitely strain any grid. And such a strain could mean voltage collapse if the stress is too great.
“With [an overextended grid] you’re getting dangerously close to the edge of the electrical world,” commented one ABB spokesman at the July 26th technology session in Eagle Pass, Texas. “It’s like those old maps–yonder there be dragons–except, in this case, the dragons are lights out.”
FACTS (flexible AC transmission) technology may be what every evil genius has been searching for–and a few of us regular joes as well. FACTS’ major selling point is its ability to beef up the existing grid: things look bigger and better without any significant additions (which are often hard to clear in a world of red tape and triplicate).
According to Karl Stahlkopf, vice president of power delivery for EPRI, FACTS technology can improve both reliability and power quality, along with controlling instabilities. Plus, allowing power flow to inch closer to inherent thermal limits means you can pack more punch into your lines.
At the heart of FACTS is a voltage source converter (which allows a fast flip from AC to DC and back again). ABB came along and plugged that converter into an insulated gate bipolar transistor and–voila!–a new way to control quality within that high power range. This means the lights in your lair shouldn’t flicker, even if the neighboring evil genius decides to fire up his own underground factory. And, if you decide to pull yourself off the general grid (due to political problems with dictators who simply won’t give in to your demands), FACTS can help you out, even with the sometimes choppy power flow from alternative sources like wind.
FACTS is already at work here in the U.S. The Bonneville Power Administration utilizes it in their Slatt Substation, and the New York Power Authority has FACTS at Marcy. In fact, there are nine spots nationwide that either have FACTS or plan to incorporate it within the year–plus nine others worldwide.
Stahlkopf declared FACTS “the most cost effective way to increase power flow.”
But, understanding the benefits of FACTS technology is only scratching the surface of what you need to wrap your evil little mind around to truly run a smooth lair. Having the know-how is one thing, applying it is another.
The Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras Tie dedication of July 27th was all about FACTS application, and an evil genius worth his salt would have been there. A back-to-back tie linking Mexico’s Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE) and Texas’ Central Power and Light (a division of American Electric Power), it replaces the age-old mechanical tie of days gone by. No longer will transfer between the two different-frequency power systems require systematic shutdowns. Now, with FACTS, those transfers can occur without interrupting South Texans’ nightly dose of Jeopardy!
“Today we are dedicating a different type of international bridge, an electrical interconnection that will bring two cities and two countries closer together,” said AEP chairman Linn Draper. The Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras tie could, in fact, be just the first in a superhighway of such bridges.
Florencio Aboytes of CFE said, if all goes well, more connections between CFE and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) could be on the horizon, including ones between Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico; Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; McAllen, Texas and Reynosa, Mexico.
While the Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras tie will be used mainly for emergencies, the 35,666 MW of Mexican capacity is, indeed, a nice safety net-including the 5,249 MW in the CFE northeast area adjacent to Eagle Pass. Add to that over 100 current requests for generation interconnection in the South Texas area (according to Ken Donohoo of ERCOT), and the potential is incredible. With areas like Laredo-growing by leaps and bounds in population but not generation-leading the list of possible voltage collapse areas, the Eagle Pass/Piedras Negras 36 MW DC tie may be heralding a significant storm on the horizon-one drastically needed in this parched electrical landscape. And an occasional evil genius or two (in disguise of course) milling about can be tolerated under such extraordinary circumstances.