Energy

Standby for Superconductors

Jean-Maxime Saugrain Mar 25, 2020

Superconductors were once the stuff of science fiction. Now they’re transforming the way electricity is delivered

Imagine if you could channel the power of three nuclear power stations through a single cable. It sounds impossible, but that’s exactly what can be achieved with Nexans’ “Best Paths” cable – and it’s just 17cm in diameter.

The secret of packing so much power into such a small cable is superconductivity – a physical phenomenon that only occurs at very low temperatures. Superconducting cables offer almost no resistance, so it’s possible to carry enormous currents.

Nexans is a global leader in high temperature superconductor* (HTS) technology for power grid applications – and Best Paths is just one example. Our offer includes both HTS cables and HTS fault current limiters. Let’s take a look at these products in more detail.

HTS cables – transforming urban power

TSOs, DSOs and railway operators need a way to satisfy the ever-growing demand for energy in cities and transport networks. Nexans HTS cables are designed to meet that demand.

Do more with medium voltage: with HTS cables, you increase the current rather than the voltage, so there is less need for conventional HV distribution.

Overcome space constraints: our HTS cables are highly compact. This makes them ideal in situations where there is a need to increase power transfer capacity within constrained rights of way in city centres and railways.

Reduce capital equipment: HTS cables allow grid operators to provide power where it’s needed, without the need to install extra transformers.

Eliminate heating and EMF: despite the enormous currents they carry, HTS cables do not get hot and they do not produce electromagnetic fields. This makes them the ideal choice in tunnels and sensitive environments.

World-leading innovation: our references include the LIPA 138kV AC cable project in Long Island USA, and the Ampacity 10kV AC link in Essen in Germany – the world’s longest superconducting cable, in use for six years.

On the horizon: lossless HVDC bulk power transmission over hundreds of kilometres to enable remote renewable generation.

HTS fault current limiters – lightning-fast protection

Nexans’ HTS fault current limiters (SFCLs) use the principle of superconductivity to protect your network from short circuits. Disconnection is achieved in less than 2ms – about 50 times faster than the blink of an eye.

Because SFCLs do not require resetting, they are perfect for hard-to-access environments including remote parts of distribution networks and railways.

Both HTS cables and SFCLs are commercially available today in a large number of AC and DC configurations. Their unique characteristics make them a cost-effective choice in a growing number of applications.

* High in this context means relative to absolute zero – the actual temperature of the conductor is minus 200°C.

About the author

Jean-Maxime Saugrain

Jean-Maxime Saugrain is the Machines, Cryogenics & Superconductors VP. He was previously Corporate VP Technical and High Voltage Business Group CTO. He held different positions at Alcatel cable in the field of optical fiber manufacturing, both in France and in the United States, before joining in 2000 the division which became Nexans.

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