Friday, March 1, 2013

Better pylons

This story is beyond interesting.  One of the BIG impediments to a wider adaptation of renewable energy is the fact that the really good sites are in deserts and off windy coastlines.  It's one thing to collect the various forms of solar power—it quite another to be able to deliver this energy to where people really need it.  And considering how many people absolutely hate the big power transmission lines, the less you have to build of them the better.

So some engineers at the University of Manchester took a look at how we build our big pylons and concluded that by insulating the cross arms, other significant improvements could be made that would dramatically increase the efficiency of the power grid.

This is a pretty simple upgrade.  It is a capital expense so getting this done right away is a problem.  And the claims for increased efficiency might be overstated—inventors relying of modeling tend to get a little carried away.  But even if it doesn't increase the transmission efficiency of the grid by 250%, it's probably worth doing considering what engineers will go through to get a 2% increase.  And unlike a lot of claimed improvements out there, this one seems to have no real reason why it wouldn't work.  Of course, this is Britain which is known for its breakthrough conceptual thinking and its so-so track record for execution.  If this really works as advertised, you can count on the idea being shamelessly copied.

Cross-arms could speed up connection of new electricity supplies

University of Manchester  22 Jan 2013

A revolutionary device developed by engineers at The University of Manchester and EPL Composite Solutions Ltd. could dramatically increase the capacity of the UK’s electricity network, enabling rapid increases in renewable generation and lower bills for consumers.

Insulated Cross-arms, manufactured and sold by University of Manchester spin-out company Arago Technology Ltd., have been installed on pylons in some of the most stark and remote areas of the UK to test their resistance to extreme weather and are also being tested for an eventual use with 400,000 volt systems at a coastal site in Scotland.

Tests have also been carried out at the University’s High Voltage Laboratory which has subjected them to lightning strikes of more than 1.4 million volts.

Modelling shows that in some cases the new Cross-arms are capable of increasing the power carrying capability of a pylon by up to 2.5 times.

Installing the insulated Cross-arms would aid the UK meet the growing demand for electricity and help in the connection of ‘green’ forms of electricity generation.

The dramatic increase in capacity of the electricity system that would result from the installation of the cross-arms could reduce the need to build more pylons and could reduce household bills.

Without them, utility companies would be faced with the expensive and laborious task of applying to build more pylons. Receiving planning permission alone can take many years with no guarantee of success.

Resistance to plans to build more overhead lines and the cost of undergrounding have greatly increased demand on utility companies with further demand expected if the UK’s householders move from gas to electricity for domestic heating and if electric vehicles gain in popularity. The insulated Cross-arms enable increased electricity supply using the same pylons or the use of smaller pylons when building a new electricity line.

Arago Technology is now planning to install 12 Cross-arms with energy companies Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission (SHETL) and National Grid (NG) with a view to further roll-out.

Professor Simon Rowland, from the University’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said: “It’s great to see research being translated into solutions for society. If the insulated Cross-arms can help to connect renewable energy sources with lower cost and less visual impact, everybody will benefit”

Arago’s Commercial Manager Dr Frank Allison added: “The installation of the insulated Cross-arms in a number of locations is a landmark event for Arago and its partners and vindicates the hours of hard work and dedication by all members of the team.

“Since energisation equivalent to a 400,000 volt system, early results are very positive suggesting the insulating Cross-arms are performing as expected, although more tests are needed.”

The Cross-arm won the Power & Energy Award at the IET Innovation awards ceremony at the end of last year.

To date the project has been funded by SHETL, NG and The University of Manchester Intellectual Property (UMIP) Premier Fund, managed by MTI Ventures.  more

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