For a guy who cannot remember names and dates very well, I sure like learning about important milestones in history.
Something fascinates me about the passage of time and progress of technology. Consider that the era of motorized transportation-planes, trains and automobiles-is less than two centuries old, but a fraction of recorded human history.
The history of electricity moves at an equally phenomenal pace relatively late in this earth’s timeline. It was an untamable curiosity for millennia, but discoveries, innovations and applications for the masses have transpired exponentially since the 19th century.
And only 50 years and one month ago-November 1965, to be precise-Hydro-Quebec delivered the world’s first commercial 735-kV transmission line. Many experts, including some Americans, argued that such a powerful line was impossible to create and control, Quebec engineer Jean-Jacques Archambault pressed on to bring high-voltage, alternating current (HVAC) electricity from the remote generating stations to the population centers of Quebec and Montreal.
High-voltage transmission, whether it’s AC, direct current, towered or underground, has its detractors but also seems to be in revival. Projects in Europe and North America are favoring HV lines because they cut down on power loss over long distances, of course.
And last year we learned that space agency NASA was utilizing U.S. HV transmission lines to measure the impact of and map geomagnetically induced currents (GICs). NASA installed scientific substations beneath Virginia powerlines to better understand GICs, a sort of large-scale geomagnetic storm which has caused widespread outages in the past, including a 1989 blackout affecting Hydro Quebec, just to bring this full circle.
Funny how power generation leads to power transmission leads to the study of space weather and solar impacts. One thing always leads to another.
In this issue, we write about the give and take currently going on with the nuclear power industry starting on page 24. The Tennessee Valley Authority is celebrating licensing of its Watts Barr Unit 2-some 40 years of stops and starts in the making-while Entergy is shutting down two northeast U.S. nuclear plants due to economic challenges.
From ancient times on, many philosophers and keen scientific observers knew that matter had atoms. By 1900, physicists realized that atoms contained energy and, less than 40 years later, scientists led by Enrico Fermi were working to create the first self-sustaining chain reaction from uranium.
The first real application was the Manhattan Project and nuclear bombs over Japan, but nuclear power soon evolved into giant power plants for electricity customers and smaller reactors powering U.S. submarines. The future is likely leading utilities to smaller, modular reactors.
Solar and wind power are relatively in their infancy. It’ll be fascinating to see how that technology evolves, or devolves, and what might take its place.
Who knows, the summer of 2014-when NASA really began observing the GCI via HV lines-might be considered a pivotal date for future energy histories. Stranger things have happened. One thing could lead to another and we might not even know it at the time.
Rod Walton, senior editor