SuperPower of Schenectady joins transformer research

SuperPower of Schenectady is working to create the next generation of transformer for the nation’s e

SuperPower of Schenectady is working to create the next generation of transformer for the nation’s electric grid, using federal stimulus money and private investment, company officials said.

The transformer, once it goes commercial, would use superconducting wire manufactured in SuperPower’s Duane Avenue facility. This could mean an increase in local jobs, said company spokeswoman Traute F. Lehner.

SuperPower, a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Philips Electronics, formed in 2000 with 20 people. It now employs 65, Lehner said.

SuperPower is working with Waukesha Electric Systems of Waukesha, Wis., the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Southern California Edison on the smart grid demonstration project.

The participants plan to install a working prototype of the transformer in the Southern California Edison power grid by the end of 2012, Lehner said. They will then evaluate the device for two years.

The federal Department of Energy is providing approximately $11 million toward the $21.5 million project. SuperPower is contributing $5 million and the other partners the remainder.

Lehner said the new transformer will use liquid nitrogen to cool superconducting wire wrapped around coils. Nitrogen lowers the wire’s temperature to near absolute zero, eliminating electrical resistance and improving energy efficiency. Conventional transformers use oil for cooling, a by-product of which is PCB. Conventional transformers also are prone to catching fire and exploding, Lehner 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 CO2 annually,” Lehner said.

The new transformer would be half the size and weight of a conventional transformer. The smaller size means it can be placed in areas where a conventional transformer cannot go, such as in a basements or on a roof. Lehner said.

In addition, the new transformer will contain a fault current limiting device using superconducting technology. “This is something new on the grid. It is like a giant surge protector,” Lehner said.

“When you have a fault on the grid, basically an interruption in the connection, there are excess amounts of power in lines that can cause problems,” Lehner said. The surge protector will switch on during faults, preventing excess energy from shooting down the line and damaging equipment, she said.

Lehner said the new transformer will replace conventional transformers in major substations that are near the end of their service lives.

Categories: Schenectady County

Leave a Reply