American Superconductor (AMSC) and China's Institute of Electrical Engineering (IEE) recently announced that IEE has successfully demonstrated a superconductor-based fault current limiter—essentially a high-voltage surge protector—for the first time in a power grid in China. The device was fabricated by IEE in collaboration with the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry and Hunan Electric Power Company using "smart" high temperature superconductor (HTS) wire manufactured by AMSC.
Since August 2005, IEE's fault current limiter device has successfully suppressed large spikes of current in the grid that were more than five times the normal levels. Superconductor wires are considered smart because they possess unique physical properties that allow them to react instantaneously to current surges, passing electricity along at normal levels while being able to recognize and suppress large surges of electrical current. Suppressing spikes of electrical current is important because it prevents damage to expensive electrical equipment in power grids. Fault current limiters cannot be made from conventional materials, such as copper wire.
According to Dr. Liye Xiao, deputy director of the IEE and director of the Applied Superconductivity Laboratory at the Chinese Academy of Science, this project is an important step in demonstrating the value of these devices in greatly improving the reliability and stability of power grids in China. "Demand for electric power in China continues to grow dramatically year-over-year," said Dr. Xiao. "We need to utilize innovative devices, such as fault current limiters and superconductor transformers and power cables, to guarantee the reliability and stability of our power grids because electricity is the lifeblood of our rapidly growing economy."
"This demonstration project is a critical step on the path to commercial sales of superconductor fault current limiters in China—a market that we believe will be very large," said Greg Yurek, chief executive of AMSC. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the market for superconductor fault current limiters in the United States alone will be several billion dollars over the next 15 years. "We expect the market in China to be even larger because grids there are already approaching the limits of circuit breakers in their rapidly expanding cities," said Yurek.