Meeting the Megacity Challenge – with Superconductors

Frank Schmidt Frank Schmidt Apr 22, 2020

The Covid-19 crisis is having a major impact on electricity demand. Yet the long-term trend is towards higher consumption – particularly in cities. Could superconducting cables help DSOs to meet rising demand?

The next decade is likely to see a big rise in urban electricity consumption. One reason for this is the shift to low-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles and heat pumps. Demographic changes also point to higher consumption as the trend towards smaller households accelerates. Long term, the electrification of domestic heating will add to the burden on DSO networks.

Electrical infrastructure and especially cable investment has always been a challenge. It could be even more challenging in the post crisis period.

Rising demand presents DSOs with some big challenges. Higher loads accelerate cable ageing and higher currents amplify circuit losses, wasting energy. To make things worse, unconstrained use of low-carbon technologies could lead to even higher peak demand.

As demand rises, so does the pressure to upgrade power networks. But for DSOs in densely-populated urban areas, upgrading networks is not easy.

First, where do you run new cables? Routing is a problem – particularly if there are other cables in situ, along with telecoms, water and gas. Meanwhile, widening an existing cable route is not always possible. This can impose a finite limit on transmission capacity.

Second, there’s the question of permitting and acquisitions. Environmental restrictions, lane rental charges and traffic management fees – plus land purchases – can add hundreds of thousands to the cost of a job. The wider the cable route, the bigger the bill.

Finally, there’s the question of disruption. Citizens are increasingly resistant to public works that cause noise and congestion. Mitigation is vital, but this adds to costs and means that projects take longer.

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Space-saving superconductors

To overcome these constraints, DSOs need a cabling solution that offers maximum transmission capacity and zero losses – within a minimum footprint.

Nexans superconducting cables meet these needs. Our high temperature superconducting (HTS)* cables offer no electrical resistance, so they can carry much more power than resistive cables at the same voltage.

The beauty of HTS cables is that they require very little space. In most cases, they can be run in existing cable routes. This makes them the ideal solution in densely-populated cities. Maintenance is minimal. HTS cables emit no heat and have no electromagnetic field. And fewer substations are needed, freeing up valuable city land.

Our innovative HTS cables are commercially available today and proven in use for six years. In Essen in Germany, a 10kV, 2300A, 40MVA Nexans HTS cable, the longest in the world, does the job of a 110kV conventional cable. The diameter of the HTS cable is just 150mm.

Our HTS cables are designed to solve our customers’ toughest problems – and to provide reliable, futureproof capacity for years to come.

* The actual temperature of the conductor is minus 200°C.

About the author

Frank Schmidt

Frank Schmidt

Frank Schmidt is the Head of the Superconductor Activity Business Unit Nexans. He held several management positions in the company since joining Nexans in 2001. Before that he worked in the field of R&D and project management for the Siemens Power Transmission and Distribution sector and Pirelli Cables and Systems. He was involved in superconducting power cable projects since 1996 and managed respective projects at Siemens and later Nexans. Besides that he was active in the field of conventional high voltage cable development and high voltage circuit breaker design and testing.

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