Preparing the Grid for Renewables: Electric Powerways

Updated: Apr 20

The electric power grid is designed to transmit power from central generating stations (ex: power plants) to areas of power consumption (ex: cities). This design creates a challenge as distributed renewable energy sources like rooftop solar become more popular, adding more inputs to the grid from a variety of locations. With the upcoming increased usage of distributed renewable energy sources, distribution requires transmission lines to be able to transmit power from various energy sources, rather than a single generating station.

Additionally, traditional transmission lines can only be operated at the capacity of the line that loads to full capacity first. While transmission lines may be rated to carry a large amount of electric energy, it is unlikely that most lines will ever carry their rated load. This creates a problem as traditional transmission lines could never carry the maximum output of both central generating stations and distributed renewables.

As the electric power grid evolves, transmission lines need to be converted to electric powerways to optimize power flow. An electric powerway is a transmission system that offers impedance control, so operators aren’t limited to a single power source or size (a major limitation in today’s grid). Once implemented, powerways will allow transmission system operators to direct the flow of power from any point of energy generation to any point of energy consumption. With electric powerways, all lines will be able to operate closer to maximum capacity at the same time. This is an opportunity to do for electricity what highways have done for transportation.

Making them even more appealing, powerways will not require a total overhaul of grid infrastructure. Instead, new components can be added to the existing infrastructure to modify them. Let’s explore the concept of a powerway, the innovations necessary for their implementation, and the benefits we’ll see.

New Components for Powerways: SSRx & T-Caps

Converting transmission lines to powerways requires the introduction of several new components that will be used to optimize powerway impedance. Currently, the impedance of transmission lines is a fixed value based on wire size and line length. The impedance of powerways can be much more variable within the range specified by the system operator. Two devices should be installed along powerways, depending on their length: solenoid series reactors (SSRx) and high-current transmission-class series capacitors (T-Caps).

Solenoid series reactors (SSRx) are innovative devices created and patented by Prescient to reduce fault current and stabilize voltage. The impedance of short powerways can be increased during normal system operating conditions by installing SSRx at each line terminal. SSRx further increase impedance when short circuits occur and stabilize grid voltage within eight milliseconds. This special feature of SSRx will enable renewable energy supplies to ride through fault conditions.

High-current transmission-class series capacitors (T-Caps) are then used to reduce transmission line impedance. Once inserted in transmission lines, T-Caps can be activated to reduce the impedance of long powerways, thereby optimizing power flow. When needed, T-Caps can be bypassed to return the powerway impedance to the initial value. T-Caps will be 10 KV, 2000 amp components, and will be located at several locations along a powerway. As a note, T-Caps are still in the design phase at Prescient.

Once these devices are installed in existing transmission lines, the conversion to electric powerways will be complete.

Case Study: New York City Transmission Lines vs. Powerways

Consider, for example, the transmission lines that power New York City. Transmission lines have been built from upstate NY and from New Jersey to NYC. Power transfer across the existing network of transmission lines is limited by the line that carries the most current.

Table 1 shows a model of the maximum power capacity of traditional transmission lines. The rating for each line is significantly higher than the actual load carried by each line. In this model, all seven lines can only ever transmit 63% of the combined rated capacity for all seven transmission lines serving NYC.

If Upstate Transmission Line 1 is out of service, then Upstate Transmission Line 2 is the limiting transmission line, carrying its maximum rating in amps. Maximum power transfer capability is still 63% of the total rated capacity.

In contrast, when transmission lines are converted to powerways, power transfer capability will be increased to 86% of the total rated capacity for all seven lines. Table 2 shows that the rating of each line remains the same, while the network load increases. The values in Table 2 are based on powerways that include SSRx and T-Caps.

The increase in power transfer capability of 3,200 Amps is equivalent to building two additional lines to serve NYC. Even when one line is out of service, power transfer capability remains at 86% of capacity.

Benefits of Powerways

Electric powerways will provide major benefits for electric utility companies. Powerways will increase the capacity of current transmission lines by over 20%, allowing more power to be sent over existing lines. This eliminates the need to build new transmission lines and other infrastructure.

Energy from distributed renewable sources could be easily transferred once powerways are commonplace, allowing the energy from renewables to be integrated smoothly into the existing grid.

Electric powerways will also benefit the consumer by eliminating price spikes on the power grid because of the increased power flow capability across the grid. Interconnected powerways will optimize power transfer, because all lines will be able to operate at maximum capacity at the same time. Energy shortfalls, like that experienced by California residents in the summer of 2020, should become a thing of the past. Powerways will be able to move significant amounts of power among all connected parts of the grid.

Powerways Aid the Transfer of Renewable Energy

Electric powerways will help prepare the grid for distributed renewable energy sources by allowing for an easier transfer of power from location to location. While the current grid is designed to transmit power from central generating stations to major points of consumption, new electric powerways will allow power to be transferred among all locations where power is produced or consumed. Major cities with abundant rooftop solar could transmit power within the city or to remote areas as power is needed. Power flow would be optimized everywhere.

If SSRx and T-Caps designs are optimized, prototypes are fabricated, and high power testing is completed in 2022, a demonstration conversion of a transmission line to a powerway can be completed as soon as 2024.

Electric powerways will be a game changer for the electric power industry. If you’d like to learn more about electric powerways, or consider converting your transmission lines, contact us. We’d love to discuss the opportunities and advantages at greater lengths with interested parties.

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