Electrical Monitor

Towards better conductor technology

Em News BureauWednesday, May 15, 2013, 17:11 Hrs  [IST]

Power transmission in India has traditionally been a mammoth activity. India has an expansive geography that makes long transmission lines, straddling across states, a ubiquitous sight. The country’s goal of creating a National Grid linking all the four regional grids calls for a gigantic power transmission network.

Even as India is transmitting power at much higher voltages than ever before, the standards of the basic infrastructure—transmission towers and conductors—largely remains unaltered. Power conductor technology has seen only a few radical shifts in technology.

Till around the 1940s, copper conductors were in vogue. However, copper shortages made engineers explore aluminium that was cheaper due to its relatively larger availability. From pure aluminium conductors, we moved to aluminium conductor steel reinforced (ACSR), a technology that was developed in the USA, c1940. Thereon, Europe came up with conductors using aluminium alloy, giving rise to what is popularly known as AAAC or all aluminium alloy conductors. Over the past three decades, ACSR and AAAC have been in vogue in India.

An abundance of aluminium and a huge demand for power conductors has spawned a diverse and competitive class of power conductor manufacturers. In fact, the world’s largest power conductor manufacturer is part of the homegrown Sterlite Group. India is regarded as a competitive and superior supplier of power conductors to the global market. All the same, there has not been much departure from the ACSR-AAAC culture.

One obvious reason for the indolence in power conductor technology emanates from the fact that power transmission has been a largely neglected area till recently. Further, power transmission remained largely a public sector prerogative. The government’s slow-mover approach in adopting new technology is well known. It is universally accepted that it is the private sector that will define new technology paradigms.

Slowly, but perceptibly, new conductor technology is seeping into India. Companies like 3M, CTC Corporation, etc are introducing new technologies to the subcontinent and the private sector has reciprocated in full measure through strategic tie-ups. One is beginning to see radically different conductor technology such as the use of carbon composite core as opposed to the generic steel core. Quite literally, changes are taking place at the core, not just at the surface!

As more power generation capacity gets added – and we are expecting to have 3 lakh mw installed by 2017 – efficient transmission systems will need to be in place. While new lines will be indispensable where there are none today, there should be a conscious effort in augmenting capacity of existing transmission line through efficient conductors, without impinging upon precious land resources and seeking the ever-arduous right-of-way!

To put it in technical jargon, India must become a good “conductor” of technology; it cannot afford to remain “insulated”.