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One of the issues that keeps coming up with wind and solar power is that the origin of the power is distant from the users of the power. There has been a lot of talk about a national 'smart grid' that could get power from whatever its origination point to its destination. My bet is that the 'powers that be' will eventually determine that a smart grid with minimal loss will be the winner. That means that AMSC is a player in the future. Your thoughts?
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I'm no expert, but I have a couple thoughts....

Nobody has ever built a long distance superconducting transmission line to my knowledge and I would think there are engineering kinks to work out. For instance, you've got to ensure that every bit of the line from end to end (many miles) remains superconducting, which requires massive input of liquid nitrogen (I presume) along with temperature and leak monitors. You'd also need to develop some kind of shutdown process in the event of a local "hot spot" to avoid that hot spot from literally blowing up. That then also implies both some kind of equipment to isolate sections for repair and a shunting system if you want to send the power somewhere else in lieu of shutting down the whole power generation operation that's feeding your line.

I would think some of this is normal operating procedure for power transmission, but if you're putting some extraordinary amount of power through a dedicated line, you're going to have unique problems.

Bottom line: It'll take some time to develop such a transmission network and it'll probably start small. It also has to be demonstrated that a long distance line (where space is not a factor) can be cheaper as superconducting rather than a normal high efficiency line. I think superconducting is attractive when there are additional constraints such as space limitations, but not so under normal conditions.

Real bottom line: I don't see this as a factor with AMSC for a long time.

Just my thoughts. Maybe somebody else will weigh in with more information.

Rob
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I'll start with your conclusion since I tend to agree with it:

Real bottom line: I don't see this as a factor with AMSC for a long time.


That said, let's remember that SmartGrid, and, long-distance transmission of power, really are two separate (but related) issues. As noted, crowded cities with no room for more cables - even below ground - is the first market, period; even before the SmartGrid, failure-tolerant aspect is added in. One reason Dept of Homeland Security is co-funding the demo in Manhattan. And if that is successful it is likely to lead to orders primarily for older, more crowded cities.

You'd also need to develop some kind of shutdown process in the event of a local "hot spot" to avoid that hot spot from literally blowing up.

No, that's already inherent in the SmartGrid design; the HTS automatically adds resistance to slow the flow and prevent out-and-out failures, even in the case of a sudden catastrophic event (eg terrorist bomb). That's why DHS is involved.

I'm guessing that HTS will be installed at the two ends first - eg, as the coils inside massive 10 MW wind turbines (design currently being worked on) where the wind blows; and inside major cities as point of use. But we'll go for years, I think, with standard, non-HTS systems connecting those two. Not only is it easier that way; but, unless AMSC licenses it's wire to others (eg Sumitomo), there won't be enough wire for years to handle the long-distance stuff; or, eg, a Japanese maglev.

jp
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let's remember that SmartGrid, and, long-distance transmission of power, really are two separate (but related) issues.

I was only addressing long distance transmission in my comments.

Rob
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Once again, jp leave little to be said. But, I'll try...

The SmartGrid is going to be local for a long time because it will be expensive. Tightly packed cities like NY, Mexico City, and London will buy this technology to keep businesses from leaving. Yes, a city can save money by not having to dig up streets. But, being able to keep the power on day in day out is something they can sell CEO's who think that the grass is greener outside the city.

There is little incentive to build a long grid line with 2G superconductors. Like jp said, there is too little manufacturing capacity to make this practical. Plus, the highly-funded high-profile projects (like a maglev) is too wire-intensive to be practical as well.

Why not focus on in-city use and keep your risk area to a few square miles while you are learning the ins-and-outs of 2G? Why take on the risk of monitoring lines over hundreds of miles (although making the link between Texas' out-of-the-way wind farms and a major city grid could really make sense)?

Consider too that 2G wire could find use in big markets. If natural gas keeps rising -- and electric rates along with it -- the benefit of switching out a big motor for one with a 2G-core is very interesting. Why soak up a lot of capacity for a single wire project when the world's motors could be optimized and help take load off the grid?

My big fear is that AMSC will be captivated by wind and take their eye off of 2G (and 3G and 4G in the future). The company has a big temperature breakthrough to bring to the 2G marketplace. But, what will 3G look like (in terms of cost, power, etc.)? Being able to define that future and get there is probably as important as getting 2G sold today. So far, AMSC has been a technology and manufacturing leader in the first two phases of superconductors. But, staying a leader when a market is just developing is a chore. Look at solar. Leadership (in terms of cost and technology) has changed over time (and even BP's money wasn't enough to allow them to be leaders today). AMSC is hardly a BP so it needs to win the old fashioned way -- giving people the freedom to explore and the ability to win financially if they win.

Early 1G used too much silver. At least it came and went in that form when silver was cheap. 2G brought lower costs and higher power ratings. It needs to get into mass produced day-to-day products so a small company like AMSC can have a revenue stream for R&D. Without that, the Sumitomo's of the world have a financial advantage. If AMSC can get into motors and other products, the stock just might soar and provide the company a way to cheaply fund it growth and keep the big guys from swamping them in the long run.

SuperGrid is a great idea. It's scope, though, will be local for a long time.

Just one guy's opinion who wouldn't know a superconductor if it fell on him...

W.D.
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