While renewables are racing to overhaul our current energy system in response to climate change, innovation has skipped over some of the basic grid infrastructure, which hasn’t changed much over the last couple of decades. For instance, almost all overhead electricity lines follow the same basic, inefficient design that’s been in use since 1908, reports Fast Company. This technology, of course, is out of date and unsuitable for accommodating the shift to renewables.
“You may have an existing grid, but if you put in over 500 megawatts of wind because you build a new wind farm, and you connect it to the grid, the grid itself may not be able to absorb that electricity,” said Herve Touati, chief strategy officer for TS Conductor, a startup developing high-efficiency conductors for the electricity grid. “So you need to increase the capacity of the grid.”
The company has recently secured $25 million in Series A funding for its efforts to redesign overhead power lines so it’s possible to transmit twice as much electricity without having to change or retrofit utility poles.
A highly more efficient design for overhead power lines
Today’s power lines are typically made of two materials, namely an aluminum wire with a steel core. The new design, however, uses a core made from carbon composite, a strong but lightweight material used in plane manufacturing.
Since they’re made from a material that’s more durable than steel, the new lines are less prone to sagging dangerously. Plus, because carbon composite is lightweight, it’s possible to use more aluminum around the outside, significantly increasing the amount of electricity that can flow through those power lines. What’s more, the lines can also be covered in extra insulation to help prevent wildfires.
Earlier this year, TS Conductor replaced a line in North Dakota in an effort to support new wind farms in the vicinity. The new lines helped the local utility company avoid replacing 60 support structures.
“The project they did with the previous generation of the conductor the year before took them a year, and the project they did with our conductor because they didn’t need to touch any other infrastructure, took them three months,” says John Resler, executive vice president of sales for TS Conductor. While the new power lines are more expensive than conventional ones, overall the result is a net saving. Not only that, since the power lines are more efficient, their carbon footprint is significantly smaller than that of older designs.