Xtreme Power has announced last week the most significant transmission station in the U.S. electric grid to date will use its PowerCell energy storage and Dynamic Power Resources energy management system.

US Grid Interconnection Map with the New Superstation Location. Click image for the largest view. Image Credit: Tres Amigas.

The proposed transmission station called the Tres Amigas SuperStation would allow power to be transmitted as needed among the three independently operating U.S. electricity grids: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection, and the Texas Interconnection.  These three grid systems supply power throughout the U.S. as well as to people in Canada and Mexico.  It’s a major tool to rationalize power production and consumption demands.

Tres Amigas got approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in March of 2010 to offer transmission services at negotiated rates across the three main arteries of the U.S. electrical grid. The agency is now considering allowing it to build and connect the mega-hub based in Clovis, N.M.  With the approval for services in hand, the likelihood that physically offering the service is quite high.  For many, there is a sense of relief and for others alarm as one company has the handle on the rationalization of the grid.  But the company isn’t named Enron.

FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff’s comments from March are being said to signal that the agency will ultimately support the project.  There remain several aspects are pending approval.

Wellinghoff said in a statement during a hearing, “This project, which is the first of its kind, will allow customers to trade power across the interconnections and to take advantage of opportunities to buy lower cost power from other regions. It may also open a new transmission path for customers interested in tapping the vast renewable energy potential in many parts of the country – Texas, the Southwest, the West and Northwest, the Southeast and the offshore Atlantic.”

Tres Amigas claims its super hub and storage facility would be able to move substantial amounts of power among the three systems. The facility will use Xtreme Power’s grid storage and management technology in an attempt to decrease brown-outs by offering more reliability and stability across the U.S., and enable renewable-energy sources like wind and solar to be better utilized.

Tres Amigas CEO Phil Harris said in part from his statement, “The role of the SuperStation is multi-faceted, but one of the most critical aspects will be ensuring that the input from renewable energy sources is incorporated smoothly into the span of the three grids, while providing reliable, flexible storage.”  Harris is the former head of PJM Interconnection, one of the largest grid operators in the U.S.

TresAmigas Superstation SuperConductor Map. Click image for the largest view. Image Credit: American Superconductor.

The major new technology going to work is using American Superconductor’s direct current superconductor power cables buried underground that will be powered by the company’s high-temperature superconductor wire and high-powered voltage-source AC/DC power converters. American Superconductor has said, obviously, that using underground superconductor cables greatly reduces the loss of energy during transmission compared to existing overhead power lines.  Somewhere the calculation of the energy loss from resistance is more than the power needed to run the superconductor system.

The new station will answer some of the issues of using wind power from the Midwest and solar in the southwest.  Having a fully interconnected national grid can bring much of the renewable energy potential into more complete utilization.  The lowest cost producers get to stay up much longer because the grid covers all four time zones.  Those four hours are a huge opportunity.  Early in the day the low cost west excess power can go east and late in the day low cost east production can flow west.  More complete base utilization should take some pressure off consumers if the savings pass through without being pocketed along the way.

The Tres Amigas plan calls for building a substation with three high-voltage converters able to connect up to five gigawatts, or 5,000 megawatts, worth of electricity from one grid to the others. Underground superconducting power cables would link the three terminals using direct current, rather than alternating current. Tres Amigas would act a broker, distributing and selling power among the three grids.  Just what that pricing power will do to consumers is yet to be seen.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Tres Amigas would burn about $1 billion for the station and startup.  It will have to payoff.

While there is no clear regulatory information on the results to consumers, the capital return for $1 billion would be 10 to 15% charged against the total savings.  One would hope the regulators figured that out and will bring a bit lower billings to consumers – but don’t bet on that.

The other opportunity of a full national grid is it helps make those production ideas for renewable shifting and leveling possible.  Much renewable power is still competitively expensive so getting the power off and used for payment and the investment amortized is in everyone’s long term interest.

This writer isn’t expecting an impact on the electricity bill either more or less.  Even if the new station was to earn 30% or $300 million that would only come to a dollar per citizen per year, less any savings.

The payoff will be in investments for new power plants that will be based on a bigger database, many brownouts and rolling blackouts should be stopped because of generating capacity and the local utilities should be able to look more to distribution upgrades.

It’s a good thing – finally getting very close.


1 Comment so far

  1. aspergers syndromes symptoms on November 8, 2010 4:53 AM

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

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