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These two short articles on the same award to DRS shows the Navy is keeping its technology options open on shrinking down on-board generator size and weight.

http://tinyurl.com/vpbx5

http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D8LLL3RG0.htm

Note, AMSC has its generator award, too; and its bigger, using HTS. And, AMSC's award is from Navsea- i.e, the operational Navy - while DRS's money is from naval research.

Still......in the budget crunch the DOD is in now, it could come down to who can produce a better than current shipboard rotating machine, at a much reduced cost. In short, the Navy could always find itself in the position of being forced, budget wise, to buy the 2nd best technology - but at a much cheaper cost - even though HTS saves petroleum fuel consumption/resupply costs et al more in the long run.

jp
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Still......in the budget crunch the DOD is in now, it could come down to who can produce a better than current shipboard rotating machine, at a much reduced cost. In short, the Navy could always find itself in the position of being forced, budget wise, to buy the 2nd best technology - but at a much cheaper cost - even though HTS saves petroleum fuel consumption/resupply costs et al more in the long run.

jp:

As always, your analysis is excellent.

I see two major events impacting all military spending. The Democrats won the election and they will be looking for long-term cost reductions from the military. Lower fuel usage, in my opinion, will win out of lower initial cost. I also expect the Democrats to be more environmentally concerned and that will certainly impact any decision that deals with oil use.

The second event is related to the last. If the Supreme Court puts CO2 on the EPA's regulation list, expect the Democrats to be watchful of any military use of fuels that does not cut our country's output of CO2. I cannot remember how much oil the military uses -- it is a big percentage and 20% sticks in my mind. While I do not see Kyoto getting signed until after there is a new president, I do see politics favorable to energy solutions like those offered by AMSC. Of all the AE plays, I like AMSC best and it isn't creating new energy -- it is just helping us not waste what we already use.

There is lots of competition for government spending. AMSC is using this spending to get the research done it needs to get products to market. For now, I think the 55 Kelvin cooling target is far more important than anything else. As the temperature required to getting superconductivity rises, the cost of cooling (and the technology required to get it done) can become more conventional (and less costly). It is the temperature breakthrough that I think AMSC will be talking about five years from now that led to superconducting becoming a real-life reality.

W.D.
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Here's how i see it...

While i like AMSC as a company with superior technology and good leadership, i think that SC's acceptance in power lines will probably remain a small fraction of this country's power lines for many decades, and the implementation of AMSC's technology in military equipment and vehicles is anything but assured.

There are two competing factors for energy... one is the reliability of the system, and the other is the initial price & complexity VS long term-savings.

Sometimes the most efficient method wins out, sometimes it doesn't. I believe it will depend on government influence (determined by who influences the government), and some by simple cost analysis.


Reliability VS long-term cost advantage (efficiency).

In military applications, reliability is a huge factor, often irrationally so. E.G, thousands are spent on an individual heavy, low-tech piece of equipment instead of hundreds of copies of a functionally similar piece of equipment that is disposable and has a tiny fraction of the same weight. (My case in point being military communications equipment. Often the sheer weight of the device makes it more, not less, liable to damage... a fact overlooked by the Procurement dept.)

HTSC is still pretty da*n cold, and will require expensive, more complex cooling systems. These may eventually be reliable enough to not be an issue in ordinary use, but military equipment is subject to intentional destruction (attack). An SC motor with a damaged cooling system will rapidly self-destruct. A standard copper motor can operate with simple air or water cooling and will have the advantage of better reliability.
Whether the lighter weight and increased efficiency of SC will win out over conventional designs is IMHO dependent primarily on the ruggedness, reliability, and repairability of the cooling system.

Better technology VS political will.

Efficiency and light weight in itself is not going to be enough to win a military contract for that reason and one other... the military can and will be steered by political whim to build exorbitantly expensive, inefficient weapons and transport systems. Whether the Dems or Reps are in charge seems to not be a huge factor historically.

Power Lines & other civilian applications:

Power companies will seek the most reliable system that long-term saves them the most money. If energy is expensive enough, the more complex SC system will win out. If energy is cheap enough, power companies will not care about the additional weight of standard copper and aluminum, except where the weight,size, and emissions are an issue (long spans, urban infrastructure where space is at a premium).
I think there is a very good chance that SC will be adopted by civilian companies for ships because these are not nuclear and therefor must carry the full volume of their fuel with them... thus the savings in efficiency are amplified by the space and weight freed up for cargo.

Over the course of the past hundred years, energy as a percentage of income has decreased in cost substantially. If solar becomes as cheap as predicted by companies developing the new types of cells, then we might conclude that energy lost in transport will be cheap enough as to not really push power companies to buy the more expensive SC. Likewise, if H2 infrastructure and fuel cells are heavily funded by government, the load on power lines will be eased, and they may never be replaced.

(Disc; i own a chunk of AMSC.)



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Ubernerd,

You make some valid points about military procurement however I think you are bit too dismissive with this statement:

f energy is cheap enough, power companies will not care about the additional weight of standard copper and aluminum, except where the weight,size, and emissions are an issue (long spans, urban infrastructure where space is at a premium).

In my mind, urban areas are not just a niche market. Urban areas account for a a very high percentage of energy demand and last time I checked it was very difficult and expensive to site additional transmission capacity into a major market. Even excluding the US markets, Asian cities are incredibly dense and the trends of migration from rural areas to urban is only going to continue. Assuming AMSC can continue to drive down the cost of the wire and prove the performance/reliability I can't see why the infrastructure planners would ignore it.
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very difficult and expensive to site additional transmission capacity into a major market. Even excluding the US markets, Asian cities are incredibly dense and the trends of migration from rural areas to urban is only going to continue.

I won't deny that.. but i believe that distributed power systems (ala fuel cells, microturbines, and solar) will displace much of the need for very large distribution lines. Power co's will find encouraging distributed power generation less expensive than refrigerating lines to almost absolute zero.
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but i believe that distributed power systems (ala fuel cells, microturbines, and solar) will displace much of the need for very large distribution lines. Power co's will find encouraging distributed power generation less expensive than refrigerating lines to almost absolute zero.


It turns out that my largest personal holding is in DESC, as well as a significant amount in CPST; and yet, I tend to disagree with you here, on a couple of counts.

Keep in mind that most urban areas- particularly in the East, but even in the west - are already under-built in terms of electrical capacity. And as I've pointed out previously, whenever urban utilities have replaced worn-out copper cables, they've had no choice but to replace them with the same size, still-copper, new cables; of almost no additional capacity. Yet electrical use per person, per household, and per business, continues to grow, powered by an electrical infrastructure that has been absolutely unable to keep up, as long as copper or aluminum were the only choices they have.

To say that somehow it is easier to sprinkle distributed systems like microturbines or fuel cells or diesel throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, et al (as examples) is, I think, totally incorrect. When the HTS wires (which don't require absolute zero) prove themselves, they can be pulled through the conduits in place, and automatically the load carrying capability increases many times. It is the power equivalent of replacing copper telecom wires with fiber optics. It is much more straightforward for a utility to do that, rather than think that Capstone, Distributed Energy, et al, will be able to be scattered over most neighborhoods anytime soon. And the main things cheaper than those options- i.e, diesel gen-sets - do not face a Welcome mat much more in urban environments; not to mention that they are dirty, and their use tied to petroleum prices.

Also keep in mind that commercial HTS utility grid products are being manufactured and sold, right now - but they aren't power cables: they are SuperVAR grid shock absorbers. And as we've discussed here before, it is my opinion that the likely demand just to wire those will totally absorb AMSC's second-gen wire capacity for at least the next three years, IMO.

AMSC dies not see the likes of DESC, and CPST, as real competitors. (Or vice versa, for that matter). There is going to continue to be a grid; it has been under-invested in for years; and just now as utilities are planning major upgrades, there is a fiber-optic -type of force multiplier coming available in the likes of 2nd gen HTS wire.

jp
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"When the HTS wires (which don't require absolute zero) prove themselves, they can be pulled through the conduits in place, and automatically the load carrying capability increases many times."

Jim,

Won't HTS wires still need to be surrounded by cooling liquids even if they do not require absolute zero? I assume that there will still be a need for significant retrofitting of the existing conduits. I do believe that any new subdivisions could/should be built with HTS in mind, but older underground systems will need a lot of work.

I own a small holding in AMSC, with plans to add to it over the next while as information becomes available.

Thanks for the informative posts,

Paul


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Won't HTS wires still need to be surrounded by cooling liquids even if they do not require absolute zero? I assume that there will still be a need for significant retrofitting of the existing conduits. I do believe that any new subdivisions could/should be built with HTS in mind, but older underground systems will need a lot of work.

All large underground power cables have a coolant. Currently it's a type of oil; more expensive (and problematic) than the liquid nitrogen HTS uses.

I honestly am not familiar enough with exactly how things fit into the conduits. But if the cooling system was such that it ended up losing all the space that HTS wires saved, then it wouldn't be worth it.

jp
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