Companies are racing to develop ways to make the 100-meter blades needed to make offshore wind compete with fossil fuels.
By Kevin Bullis
Why: Smart electrical grids and more efficient power cables can help save money and energy.
Key innovation: Underground superconductor power cables using AMSC’s Amperium™ high temperature superconductor wire can carry up to 10 times as much electricity as conventional copper cables.
While the company's superconducting wire, which can be used in cables that carry as much electricity as 10 equivalent copper cables, could fundamentally change the way electricity is transmitted on the grid, American Superconductor has also innovated in the design and operation of wind turbines. Its electrical control systems are in many of the turbines being deployed worldwide, and the company is developing offshore turbines that have the industry’s largest generating capacity—10 megawatts or more—in order to maximize the power per turbine installed.
The annual market for underground electricity transmission is measured in the billions of dollars. The rapid buildout of wind power capacity in China and elsewhere in the world has also created a huge demand for the company’s wind turbine electrical control systems and its grid interconnection solutions that efficiently manage the flow of that electricity into existing electric grids.
Last year, American Superconductor signed a half-billion dollar agreement with Sinovel, China's largest wind turbine manufacturer, to provide electrical components for thousands of wind turbines. This is an extension of a contract first signed in 2005 that has been the dominant source of revenue for American Superconductor.
Challenges and Next Steps:
While electric utilities are slow to adopt new technologies, a recent order for 3 million meters of Amperium wire by LS Cable shows superconductors are now coming of age as a solution to 21st Century energy challenges. Economic constraints have led to delays to wider-spread adoption of superconductor power cable systems in the U.S.; however superconductor projects are underway in New York and New Mexico.