One Superconducting Ring to Bind Them All

Oct 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Energy

The United States power grid is currently (get it? get it!?) split into three distinct chunks: an Eastern interconnection, a Western interconnection (of which Seattle and Washington State are members) and Texas. Why is Texas separate from the rest? Why indeed.


Surplus power generated in one interconnection, at this time, cannot be transferred to another. Further, the parts of the continent most promising for wind, solar and geothermal power (i.e. the greenest power choices available right now) are far from where the bulk of power is consumed (the East and West coasts).

Enter the Tres Amigas project–a plant build a superconducting triangle of powerlines to connect these three grids. Using high temperature superconductors allows the power to be transmitted as direct current with similar efficiencies to alternating current. (Mashing together alternating currents from disparate grids is quite problematic, due to issues of phase. Using DC to connect the grids alleviates this problem. Superconductors alleviate some of the inefficiencies of transmitting DC over long distances.)

This is good news from the perspective of green energy. Connecting the East and West coasts to the areas most promising for wind and solar power will boost the economic viability of such projects in the near future. In the negative, this allows for all sorts of new games to be played by energy traders in the largely unregulated energy market.