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Conductor technology for the toughest challenges

Mohan Nair ,  Wednesday, May 23, 2012, 17:08 Hrs  [IST]

Mohan NairPower sector traditionally has been one of the main growth drivers for many economies around the world and with industrialization reaching its peak across the globe, the developing economies have a bigger challenge to cater to the growing power demands in their respective countries. Power consumption both in the domestic and industrial market is expected to surge further with population explosion and growing industrialization and we in India have an ambitious target to meet.

With the growing infrastructure need in the country, there is an increasing demand for efficient power. Power transmission & distribution plays a key role in ensuring electricity reaches homes, offices and industries. For example, the power cable industry in India is slated for a strong growth and is expected to cross 90,000 km in production this year. Similarly, transmission tower upgrades, revamping of distribution systems in urban areas are the key discussion topics across public utilities in the country. Nowadays public expectations can conflict with sound planning and engineering; and where efforts to ensure grid reliability are seen as blocking access and constraining the potential of the future. Our country today needs solutions especially in the areas of power transmission conductor to meet demanding application requirements.

Power utilities are faced with major a challenge in keeping up with the exponential growth in heavily populated urban areas. This situation often involves upgrading the existing transmission lines to carry more power. However, upgrades need larger towers on wider swathes of land in areas where land is at a premium. Also, distribution lines, railroads and buildings may be close to the line that an upgrade cannot be done without displacing them. This is where upgraded conductor is required.

To state an instance, Tata Power, Mumbai, needed to upgrade two transmission lines. The population density is approximately 27,000 people per sqkm as a result of which the company needed to upgrade their 110kV Borivali-Malad and Salsette- Saki transmission lines. To further complicate the issue, two-storey residences had sprung up under the lines severely violating the sag levels.

Tata Power was looking for a solution that would survive Mumbai heat and heavy monsoons making the conductor's reliability under harsh environmental and operating conditions essential. 3M ACCR was an automatic choice and the installation was completed using existing structures and without displacing people living nearby. The line capacity was increased from 900 to 1,800A.

3M has developed products and solutions for the power sector especially in the areas of power transmission conductor to meet various application requirements. 3M is fundamentally a material science company and the core technology platform forms the basis of thousands of innovative products. Our success begins with our ability to apply our technologies, often in combination, to an endless array of real-world customer needs. Of course, all of this is made possible by the people of 3M and their singular commitment to make life easier and better for people around the world.

Continuing this legacy of Innovation, 3M has developed the advanced high temperature low sag conductor used in power transmission. The 3M ACCR (Aluminum Conductor Composite Reinforced) is one such product which provides numerous benefits to utilities.

The ACCR conductor has been installed in many applications in US since 2001 including the hot deserts, fastgrowing areas near Phoenix, Arizona, densely populated areas near Washington DC and environmentally sensitive areas in Minnesota.

The traditional overhead transmission conductors such as Aluminum Conductor Steel Reinforced (ACSR) are composed of a core made of steel wires stranded together and then covered with aluminum wires. The steel core carries the mechanical load of the conductor while the aluminum outer wires carry the electrical current. Modern transmission conductor such as the 3M Aluminum Conductor Composite Reinforced (ACCR) replaces the core steel wires with alumina fibre wires infused with high purity aluminum and the aluminum outer wires are a high temperature aluminum zirconium alloy, producing a lighter conductor than conventional ACSR conductors, but with the same strength

This is an advanced high temperature low sag conductor which provides numerous benefits to utilities. Also, when energy flows through a conductor, it gets heated up and expands, causing the conductor to sag. But ACCR sags about half as much as standard ACSR and can withstand temperatures as high as 240°C with no damage or loss of performance. The combination of high strength, low weight and low sag; allows twice the current to flow through it even while maintaining clearance and performance at high temperatures and over long periods of time. So existing transmission lines can be upgraded using existing structures and minimize disruption to existing facilities.

Utilities in China and Brazil, where demand for electricity is growing in tandem with burgeoning economies like India's are adopting this new technology to complete urgently needed upgrades while avoiding logistical problems that can lead to costly delays.

In short, 3M ACCR offers up to a 2X capacity upgrade using existing corridors and towers while maintaining or improving tensions and clearances, and typically at a much lower cost than rebuild. It does not increase transmission line footprints or change structure height or line appearance, so it can help minimize the impact on property owners and environment. It also provides utilities a fast, sustainable way to reduce transmission constraint and accommodate the integration of renewable and other new uses of the grid. As an all-metal conductor, it is durable and reliable as standard conductors. This solution also helps reduce installation time, a factor of growing importance considering the rapidly evolving public expectations and resulting regulatory mandates. From a future perspective, we foresee that since the existing grid was never designed to handle the intermittent loads from renewable energy sources or provide the flexibility demanded by future loads. Yet the expectations for both reliability and access continue to grow as new uses for electric power evolve.

The challenge to power utilities will be to find new ways and new tools to meet an increasingly complex future. Advanced technology grid components like 3M ACCR conductor can help build the robustness and flexibility that will be demanded of a future grid and help the power utility industry keep the nation's light on for the years to come.

To conclude, we need to consider a judicious approach while addressing the bleak power situation in India. Considering upgrades and embracing new technologies especially in areas of power transmission would certainly provide the necessary supercharge for growth.

(Mohan Nair is General Manager - Electrical Markets Division, 3M India)
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