Waukesha Electric to build transformer for DOE smart grid program

Schenectady, N.Y., December 15, 2009 — SuperPower is partnering in a $21.5 million smart grid demonstration project award announced by U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu on November 24.

The project with SPX business unit, Waukesha Electric Systems of Waukesha, Wisconsin will demonstrate a smart grid-compatible fault current limiting superconducting transformer that will help improve the stability and reliability of our nation’s electric grid.

In making the announcement Secretary Chu said, “These demonstration projects will further our knowledge and understanding of what works best and delivers the best results for the smart grid, setting the course for a modern grid that is critical to achieving our energy goals.”

Arthur P. Kazanjian, general manager at SuperPower said, “We are delighted to work with Waukesha to add the superconducting transformer, with a unique fault current limiting function, to the smart grid technology portfolio.”

“Building on our prior work on superconducting transformer and fault current limiter development, SuperPower will optimize our second-generation high-temperature superconducting (2G HTS) wire to provide a unique ‘low ac loss’ conductor that will significantly reduce energy losses in the proposed 28 megavolt ampere utility-scale transformer,” Kazanjian said.

It is estimated that 40 percent of the nation’s total grid energy losses are from aging conventional transformers and that the use of superconducting transformers could reduce energy losses on the grid by one-third — equivalent to eliminating about 15 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

For more information on smart grid projects, check out our smart grid topic center.

Waukesha Electric is the project lead for this effort. In addition to SuperPower, other project participants include the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston to lead the wire development effort for SuperPower, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory to provide technical expertise in applied superconductivity, cryogenics and high voltage dielectrics. Southern California Edison will host the device at their smart grid demonstration site in Irvine, California.

The 28 megavolt-ampere three-phase medium-power transformer will be installed at the Southern California Edison utility substation by the end of 2012 and will integrate smart grid communication and control instrumentation. Following installation, a two-year test period will provide real-time data to validate smart grid business models, system performance, energy savings and improvements in power quality and reliability.

A transformer that incorporates superconducting wire can eliminate up to half the energy losses of transformers wound with conventional copper wire and results in a device that is about one-half the physical size and weight of a conventional transformer.

This enables increased power handling capability without the requirement for more or larger substations in already crowded urban areas

Beyond the energy savings, there are substantial environmental benefits. According to Drew Hazelton, principal engineer and project lead for SuperPower, “Conventional transformers are filled with toxic and flammable oil for cooling. Approximately one transformer catches fire or explodes each day in the United States. A FCL superconducting transformer mitigates both of these risks because it is cooled with liquid nitrogen, an inexpensive, readily available and benign substance that will result in a safer and ‘green’ device.”

Protecting the electrical grid from faults that result from lightning strikes, downed power lines and other system interruptions is critical to ensure a safe and reliable flow of power for consumers.

By incorporating fault current limiting capability, the transformer is better able to handle fault currents that may arise from the smart grid goal of accommodating new generation and energy storage options such as renewable energy resources like wind and photovoltaic systems.

The fault current limiting feature of the transformer provides critical protection and significantly reduces wear and tear for circuit breakers and other power equipment in existing substations.

This reduces capital equipment costs for replacement or upgrade of such equipment and provides flexibility in routing power during emergency situations.


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