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Smart Grid Sparks Opportunities for Advanced Materials

Smart Grid Sparks Opportunities for Advanced Materials

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Published by NanoMarkets
As the current generation of power grids approach the end of their useful life, public and private institutions are calling for the construction of new grids--a Smart Grid that incorporates new technologies to allow for affordable and efficient power supply and the integration of power generated from renewable energy sources. The vision of the Smart Grid, as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy in its Grid 2030 vision, is "a 21st century electric system that connects everyone to abundant, affordable, clean, efficient, and reliable electric power anytime, anywhere."
As the current generation of power grids approach the end of their useful life, public and private institutions are calling for the construction of new grids--a Smart Grid that incorporates new technologies to allow for affordable and efficient power supply and the integration of power generated from renewable energy sources. The vision of the Smart Grid, as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy in its Grid 2030 vision, is "a 21st century electric system that connects everyone to abundant, affordable, clean, efficient, and reliable electric power anytime, anywhere."

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Published by: NanoMarkets on Nov 13, 2009
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03/23/2013

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NanoMarkets
thin film|organic|printable|electronics
 
www.nanomarkets.net
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Smart 
 
Grid
 
Sparks
 
Opportunities
 
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 Advanced
 
Materials
 
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in
 
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research
 
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 As the current generation of power grids approach the end of their useful life, public and privateinstitutions are calling for the construction of new grids--a Smart Grid that incorporates newtechnologies to allow for affordable and efficient power supply and the integration of powergenerated from renewable energy sources. The vision of the Smart Grid, as defined by the U.S.Department of Energy in its Grid 2030 vision, is "a 21st century electric system that connectseveryone to abundant, affordable, clean, efficient, and reliable electric power anytime, anywhere."Meeting the many and varied expectations for Smart Grids in the next ten years will mean thedevelopment of new kinds of cable, cable dielectrics, power electronics, cable insulators, andenergy storage devices. For this to happen, Smart Grids will have to utilize a variety of newmaterials ranging from gallium nitride to superconductors to carbon nanotubes. The task is evenmore urgent given that, according to many observers, investment in electricity grids has lagged inthe U.S. and other nations, creating an urgency to upgrade.Thus the opportunity being discussed here is more than just a response to what may be just hype;all the fuss over Smart Grids, some of which may be more politically motivated than motivated byreal needs. As a result of both genuine needs and the massive capital expenditures that areexpected to be made on Smart Grids in the next decade (especially in the U.S.), NanoMarketsexpects to see unparalleled opportunities for manufacturers of advanced materials and specializedpower devices and cables. These will help enable new grid architectures as well as enhance powersystem control and reliability, improve power quality and equipment lifetimes, and reduce costs.
 Advanced Materials and Smart Grid Technologies
 Advances in material science have always been applied to the grid conceptually, but havehistorically not had much impact on grid development. A couple of decades ago, for example,superconductors were touted as likely to change the face of grid technology, but they didn't live upto their promise. It is often noted in the industry that Thomas Edison would have felt quite athome with today's grid technology and materials. And it is almost certainly the case that most
 
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managers and engineers who deal with electricity grids on a day to day basis think of it at thematerial level as being made up of "just wire," as one of them put it to us.What has changed is that there is a new focus on advanced materials as an area of engineeringthat can produce business opportunity. This is often talked about in terms of the rise of "nanotechnology," although this designation is a bit crude in the sense that much more than "smalltech" is involved. The new interest in advanced materials is a much larger trend than one thatsimply impacts the power industry, but it does potentially impact this industry in many differentways.For now, we note only that, while in the past, improvements in materials and components for thegrid would have been largely incremental, today's materials development is at a point that makespossible orders-of-magnitude improvements in performance. According to the U.S. Department oEnergy's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), achieving a next-generation power gridwill require the development of several "critical" technologies. These include advanced conductors;high temperature superconducting materials and equipment; large- and small-scale electric storagedevices; distributed sensors, smart controls, and distributed energy resources; and powerelectronics.
Smart Grid Cabling and Novel Conducting Materials
The most obvious way in which new materials can impact next-generation grids is throughadvances in conductive materials. By increasing conductivity it becomes possible to move towardan ideal where power is generated where it can be created at the lowest cost and then shipped towhere it is most needed. Consider for example the scenario in which energy was generatedcheaply in Nevada using solar thermal technology and then shipped--also at low cost--toMinnesota. This is still a long way from being a possibility at the present time, but would requirecables made from new materials that would be incorporated into a Smart Grid to enable hundredsof Gigawatts of electricity to be shipped over thousands of miles.There are (at least) three developments in advanced materials that are important in this context.Composite conductors are the most conventional of these and these are already in use throughoutthe existing grid. Composite cabling systems most often utilize aluminum and they are said todouble amperage limits with little change in the requirements for line support or towers.
 
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More revolutionary is the use of superconductors. As we have already noted, the first wave of interest in this area ended in disappointment. However, there is some limited use being made of 1G (first generation) superconductor wire in the power industry today; they are being used in shortline segments as exits from congested substations or in urban areas and as fault current limiters.2G superconductor wire and high-temperature superconductors (HTS) can be made in limitedquantities today and have the kind of spectacular performance requirements that may be just whatthe Smart Grids of the future need. As an example of the renewed interest in HTS for Smart Gridapplications, we cite the announcement in October 2009 by American Superconductor Corporation(AMSC) that its high-temperature superconductor wire have been chosen for the Tres AmigasProject. This is a "multi-mile, triangular electricity pathway capable of transferring and balancingmany GigaWatts of renewable power between three power grids."The third material that presents an opportunity for new levels of conductivity for the Smart Grid iscarbon nanotube-based wires. The suggestion that carbon nanotubes could be used in this waywas first made by the late Richard Smalley, and much of the work in this area is still being carriedon at Smalley's old university, Rice University. According to researchers there, CNT wires "cantheoretically conduct 100 million amps of current over thousands of miles without much loss inefficiency." This compares to today's wires, which conduct around 2,000 amps of current overhundreds of miles, with about 6 percent to 8 percent of the electricity lost in the form of heat. In apaper published in July 2009 in Nano Research, researchers at Rice University also described amethod for making bundles of single-walled carbon nanotubes centimeters in length that couldeventually yield CNTs of unlimited length. However, of the three developments in Smart-Grid-related conductive materials, CNT wires is by far the furthest from actual commercialization.
SF6 Elimination and New Dielectrics
Dielectric materials are used primarily in the power grid for cable insulators (they are also used incapacitors). As with conductive materials, the expectation is that the evolution of the Smart Gridwill produce a need for enhanced performance from dielectrics; that is better dielectrics will beneeded to support the other changes in electricity grids that Smart Grids are expected to bring intheir wake. However, in this case there is an environmental consideration as well, namely the needto replace sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). SF6 is an excellent dielectric that is widely used in high-voltage circuit breakers, switch boxes, and transmission lines. But it is also a major greenhouse

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