T&D World Magazine

AMSC Begins Fault Current Limiter Project for Southern California Edison

American Superconductor Corp. and Southern California Edison have announced an agreement award from the Department of Energy on a project to develop and perform in-grid testing of a transmission-voltage fault current limiter solution. The FCL will use a design from Siemens AG that incorporates AMSC's proprietary second-generation high-temperature superconductor wires. Fault current limiters act as high-voltage surge protectors for the power grid, increasing system reliability and overall efficiency.

"Superconductor technologies hold great potential for improving the capacity, reliability and efficiency of the nation's transmission grid," said DOE Secretary Samuel W. Bodman. "Fault current limiters are among the most promising of these technologies given their potential to suppress the increasing power surges that are threatening our electrical infrastructure."

As project manager, AMSC will lead the effort to develop a three-phase, 115-kV stand-alone FCL. This FCL will feature a proprietary low-inductance coil technology from project partner Siemens that makes the FCL invisible to the grid until it switches to a resistive state upon the detection of a fault current. The demonstration will occur at a location operated by team member SCE. In addition to Siemens and SCE, AMSC's project partners include Nexans, the University of Houston and Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The project will be conducted in two phases. The first phase will focus on customizing approximately 7,500 meters of AMSC's 2G HTS wire for the FCL application, developing an advanced switching module, designing terminations, and manufacturing and testing a single-phase, transmission-voltage FCL in a laboratory setting. The second phase of the project will focus on manufacturing and testing the three-phase, 115-kV FCL in SCE's grid.

The DOE, through its National Energy Technology Laboratory, is expected to provide AMSC with approximately $3.1 million in federal funding through completion of the first project budget period, expected to end in September 2008. Upon successful completion of key project milestones and sustained execution of a viable business strategy, as much as $9.7 million in additional DOE funding may be made available to AMSC for continued implementation of this five-year project through September 2012, subject to availability of funds appropriated by the U.S. Congress.

Earlier this year, AMSC and Siemens announced they had achieved commercial-grade performance levels for a medium-voltage FCL. The test was conducted on a single-phase, 2 MVA FCL that operated at a voltage of 7.5 kV, which corresponds to a 13-kV class of three-phase power equipment. The FCL suppressed the current during a fault by up to twenty-five times. AMSC and Siemens formed a strategic business alliance in February 2005 to develop HTS fault current limiter technology.

"We are excited to commence work on this project with our international team of business and technology leaders," said AMSC founder and Chief Executive Officer Greg Yurek. "Having achieved commercial-grade success with Siemens on a medium-voltage FCL earlier this year, we are ready to take the next step toward commercialization by developing a transmission-voltage system and demonstrating its advanced capabilities in Southern California Edison's grid. We continue to view stand-alone fault current limiters as one of the largest potential market opportunities for our AMSC Superconductors business."

AMSC's manufacturing process enables it to rapidly customize the dimension, lamination and current carrying capacity for its 2G HTS wire to suit a broad array of applications. High temperature superconductor materials are "smart" because they possess unique physical properties that allow them to conduct electricity with no resistance under normal operating conditions, while also being able to recognize and then instantaneously suppress large surges of electrical current by switching to the resistive state. Suppressing spikes of electrical current is important because it prevents blackouts by preventing damage to expensive electrical equipment in power grids.

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