Resilient Grid Project

Superconductor cables to interconnect assets in downtown Chicago against extreme weather

It’s no secret that Chicago is home to some extreme weather from time to time. Locals used to refer to trademark gusts that introduced themselves around a corner as “The Hawk”. Chicago’s Resilient Electric Grid project is designed to stabilize infrastructure against such moments. The project continued its progress this week with a contract granted by AMSC (American Superconductor), headquartered in Ayer, Mass., to Nexans to produce a superconductor cable.

The medium voltage high temperature cable will be produced by Nexans at a specialized superconductor facility in Hannover, Germany, and is scheduled to be installed in a ComEd substation in the fourth quarter of this year. The 13.8 kV cable is rated at 3000 amps, far exceeding the current transported by any resistive cable. Superconductor cables generate high temperatures; this cable will be cooled with a flow of liquid nitrogen.

The project is part of the ongoing U.S. Department of Homeland’s initiative to secure the country’s electric grid against extreme weather and other catastrophic events. Ideas for such a project were even discussed in a TED talk last year featuring Michelle Blaise, a Chief Engineer for ComEd (see video above). That particular discussion centered around linking Chicago’s historic South Side Bronzeville neighborhood to other parts of an upgraded, resilient installation system throughout Northern Illinois.

The REG system “provides protection against catastrophic effects resulting from the loss of critical substation facilities in urban areas by interconnecting and sharing excess capacity of nearby substations, while preventing high fault currents,” Nexans said in a June 18 press release sent to EA. The result is “enhanced protection from cascading failures and widespread power outages on the power grid.”

The design selected for the REG project also has a low environmental impact as there is near zero thermal and electromagnetic fields. 

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