Openings for new employees

I am searching for a few good employees for building working models of the key high voltage splices of elpipes. The first stage of this will entail COMSOL Multiphysics modeling of electrical phenomena in the snap-fit splices. This could be done off-site. If you think you have insight into that, write me an email. <roger@elpipe.com>


Article in Natural Gas & Electricity on HVDC loops in Europe

My latest publication is Underground HVDC Supergrid can work in Europe in the March issue of Natural Gas & Electricity, a Wiley publication:

(credit as follows: "Faulkner, Roger W.Natural Gas & Electricity30/8, ©2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., a Wiley company.").

This article specifically discusses a European supergrid based on HVDC loops. 

Over the years that I have pursued the vision of a continental scale supergrid, I have always proposed designs based on HVDC loops with multiple terminals. In the beginning I did not yet fully appreciate that loops are intrinsically redundant, as long as there are main loop circuit breakers between neighboring AC/DC converters linked to the main loop. All the currently installed HVDC schemes rely on the AC grid to supply redundancy in case a sudden generator or transmission line failure occurs. It is this fact that sets the maximum capacity that can be carried by an individual line, and at a much lower level than is feasible for the HVDC links per se. 

Creating a true DC grid based on intersecting loops ("meshed grid") requires a DC circuit breaker that can interrupt main loop fault currents, which could go as high as hundreds of GW during a short circuit. To avoid that, I have come to think that superconducting fault current limiters (SCFCLs) are vital in the mix of technologies to protect the DC supergrid. In effect, the SCFCLs protect the circuit breakers by allowing them to be designed for lower (but still very large) fault currents.

The other technology that will be needed for a supergrid in addition to circuit breakers and fault current limiters are flow regulators, which work by adjusting the voltage drop through the regulator. In effect, flow regulators work like throttling valves on a water distribution system, evening out the flow through the various parallel connections of the supergrid. In order to not be lossy, the flow regulator must be hooked up to the AC grid or to energy storage, so that the inline load imposed to create a voltage drop on an HVDC main line is exported to the local AC grid directly or via an intermediate energy buffer storage. (This last bit was not discussed on the Wiley article.)


The elpipe concept can be used to install cables too

My elpipe patent application arguably covers any form of electrical transmission system in which the actual current-carrying power line moves like a train inside a pipeline for purposes of installation, repair, and maintenance.  This mechanism could be used to put subsea cables into pipeline conduits along the US East Coast for example, which is relevant because subsea cable has higher voltage rating and higher power carrying capacity than underground cable designed for overland transport. 

For example, 100 km sections of subsea cable can be unwound off a ship directly into the pipeline conduit. Visualize that the cable is held aloft by small robotic vehicles that carry the cable in to a pipeline conduit; this might look like a long line of robotic army ants carrying the cable in, and then putting it down, but more likely the robotic vehicles will roll on wheels. The same principle could work for superconducting lines, though the minimum bend radius for different types of cables varies a lot. Magnesium diboride (which requires liquid hydrogen for cooling) is much easier to manufacture in great lengths compared to the latest HTS (high temperature superconducting)  superconducting cables, but both are feasible to install by the elpipe methodology, in very long pieces without splices.

This generality makes the elpipe patent valuable for installing currently available technology, even before the segmented polymer-insulated designs that I originally envisioned as elpipes are proven.


State of the art from State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) on Thyristor-based HVDC

source: http://www.sgcc.com.cn/ywlm/mediacenter/inspotlight/10/297984.shtml

I thought this press release from State Grid Corporation of China was excellent, and really laid out their future vision for HVDC upgrades. I have reproduced the cited press release below. I have interspersed my own comments as well, identified clearly by RWF. It is clear from this, I think, that State Grid holds firm to the course of pushing line commutated converters (LCCs) based on thyristors to higher currents and higher voltage. This is not very compatible with the supergrid concept, I think, though all the innovations developed by State Grid will still be useful in a supergrid, regardless of the concept they were pursuing when the innovations were made. The key difference is that a supergrid requires multi-terminal HVDC and bi-directional energy flow; (but not necessarily EVERY energy flow needs to be bi-directional).

China Energy News: China Ready for Large-scale Construction of UHV
Released on:2013-10-23         
    The test run meeting of the Xiangjiaba - Shanghai ±800kV UHV DC project was held in Beijing on 9th November. Deputy Director of Electric Power Department of National Energy Administration, Qin Zhijun pointed out that in spite of large capacity and technological difficulty of UHV DC projects, with independent innovation, SGCC successfully tackled a series of worldwide technological problems through comprehensive and solid scientific research and cooperation. National Energy Administration supports the development of UHV DC technology and hopes that SGCC can summarize its past experience so as to better push forward UHV DC technology.

  Not only the Xiangjiaba – Shanghai UHV DC project, projects including 1000kV Jindongnan-Nanyang-Jingmen UHV AC project, Jinping-Sunan ±800kV UHV DC project, 1000kV Huainan-Zhebei-Shanghai UHV AC project, and Southern Hami-Zhengzhou ±800kV UHV DC project in adjustment as well as the East Shore of Xiluodu -Jinhua ±800kV UHV DC project and 1000kV Zhebei-Fuzhou UHV AC project that are under construction, are the results of scientific innovations as SGCC has tackled down problems that the world is now facing.

RWF: State Grid relies on the AC grid for redundancy
UHV DC realized domestic production

  It is learned that SGCC first invented the 6-inch thyristor and applied it in the Xiangjiaba - Shanghai project. The 800kV, 4500A, 1.8GW thyristor valves that SGCC made updated the world record in voltage, current, and capacity. The DC technology can now transmit in 8GW-level over 200km instead of 3GW-level within 1000km. Meanwhile SGCC created the first UHV converter transformer of the highest voltage and largest capacity but with the same transmission constraints as a 500kV converter transformer.

RWF: not sure what this means "The 800kV, 4500A, 1.8GW thyristor valves that SGCC made updated the world record in voltage, current, and capacity." I understand that SGCC increased the ampacity of the thyristor to 4500 amps by increasing its diameter; at the +/-800kV voltage level (which requires multiple series-connected thyristors), this corresponds to 7.2GW, the current best proven transmission capacity. I do not know what is meant by the "1.8 GW thyristor valves?" This appears to reference the 400kV modules that are used to form the converter. It would be more useful to know the voltage step per thyristor: is it still 8kV as is used by ABB, or have they advanced to the 12kV per thyristor step that was achieved in the USSR before their research was shut down by the collapse of the Soviet Union?
  Experts of the test run said that the technology of the UHV was successful and could be popularized in application. The project has maintained a stable operation since its launch 3 years ago, transmitting 47.3TWh of power in total, which provided a solid foundation for transmitting excessive hydropower from Xiangjiaba power station and the Southwest to other places, especially during summer peak time in 2013 when the machines were running overtime and with overload. The project greatly eased the pressure of power demand from East China such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Shanghai that suffered high temperature.

  In technology innovation, SGCC was never satisfied. It accelerated the development of UHV technology on the basis of the stable operation of Xiangjiaba–Shanghai project. Deputy Director of Department of DC Construction, Gao Liying introduced that with self-innovation, the company had another breakthrough in Jinping-Sunan project. The UHV DC system was completely domestically designed and the low-end converter transformer was also domestically researched and developed. China-made converter bushing was applied for the first time. Polar low-end stations also used independently developed UHV converter valves and control software for the first time. DC equipment was supplied by domestic manufacturers in set. All these signified that China was ready for systematic and domestic construction of ±800kV UHV projects.

RWF: Watch out, ABB, Siemens, and Alstom Grid! From SGCC's perspective it might look like the push towards multi-terminal HVDC, and voltage-source converters by the Western "Majors" is more about changing the game to their advantage than anything else. They may be right, but my reasons for advocating a supergrid are not influenced by those considerations.
  In addition, the Southern Hami-Zhengzhou ±800kV UHV DC project to be put into operation at the end of this year and the East Shore of Xiluodu -Jinhua ±800kV UHV DC project under construction have larger transmission capacity, more advanced technology and are more domesticized. They will further validate the advantages of UHV AC transmission with high capacity and high efficiency over long distances.

  Equip China with strong DC technology instead of just large DC capacity  

  “While bringing the economic and social benefits of UHV into play, SGCC also made a breakthrough in the core technology of high-end products based on construction of UHV  projects which helped to realize leapfrog development of manufacturing power transmission equipment. The most representative example is the research and application of UHV converter valve,”said Tang Guangfu, Director of the DC Department of the Institution of Smart Grid Research of SGCC and the general manager of CLP Power Engineering CO., Ltd, Purell, “A sophisticated system based on power electronic devices which combines knowledge of different sciences is difficult to control. To a certain extent, it represents the level in equipment manufacturing as well as scientific and technological innovation ability of a nation. So developing the UHV converter valve with full independent intellectual property rights is a strategic demand to construct the Strong and Smart Grid.”

  It is known that UHV converter valve is the core equipment of a UHV DC project, the electric power equipment that realizes large-capacity electricity transformation. But the manufacturing of the equipment used to be monopolized by multinationals like ABB and Siemens for a long time. In order to tackle this problem, SGCC developed the valve prototype with full independent intellectual property rights with reference to the experience in major DC projects, cooperation and collaboration, and solid scientific research. Now a test platform for converter valve with the highest test parameters in the world has been established.

  The prototype has a rated voltage level of ±800kV, a rated flow of 4500-5000A, and a fault current of 50kA. All these core technical parameters excel similar products from home and abroad while the cost was 20% less than that of the foreign ones. The demonstration devices of the valve has the highest test voltage of 80kV,
RWF: that answers my earlier question. An 80kV test voltage for an individual thyristor could potentially mean 24kV per series-connected thyristor in use (current ABB thyristors are used at 8kV per step; that implies one third as many thyristors! per 400kV converter module. If I have interpreted correctly, that is the biggest bit of news here!).
the highest steady-state DC test current of 6kA and the maximum fault current of 55kA, all representing the highest level in the world. The successful test of the converter valve can save 2 million yuan for each DC project in our country.

RWF: This is huge, potentially. What if Chinese Foreign Aid starts funding 800kV HVDC lines around the world?
  Tang Guangfu pointed out that the research and application of UHV converter valve made China the third country to master the core technology of UHV DC converter valve following Sweden and Germany, which altered the pattern in the international DC market and realized three transformations of China’s DC industry. 
RWF: Mitsubishi is also a technology leader.

Now equipment was not just made in China, but created by China. And the country is now leading in the industry instead of learning from other countries. The industrial pattern has changed from large DC capacity to strong DC technology.

RWF: Congratulations! SGCC can supply the current state of the art highest capacity HVDC line. The highest capacity on one set of towers is a double-circuit overhead powerline based on 800kV with SGCC valves @ 800kV: 7.2 GW/circuit times 2 circuits. This sets a very specific alternative product to compare elpipes against.

I would also like to publically disclose, and thus make this concept non-patentable (if it is not already): 
one can also have elevated, air insulated pipes (busbars that go many kilometers); that must also be considered as an alternative technology.
  Domestic UHV equipment realized mass production

  While continuing making progress in solving the problems in UHV DC technology, the development of UHV AC technology attracts worldwide attention.

  The 1000kV Jingdongnan-Nanyang-Jingmen AC transmission project is the first commercially operated 1000kV line in the world, which was commissioned five years ago. Before that, countries like the former Soviet Union, the United States, Italy and Japan have tried to develop such technology but failed to form mature technology and standards, not to mention system electrical equipment. However, this project conquered worldwide challenges in high voltage, strong current electromagnetism and insulation technology, breaking new records in six aspects including voltage control, external insulation technology, system equipment manufacturing, electromagnetic environment management, construction of demonstration projects, and experimental capability.

  Chen Weijiang, Deputy Director of AC Construction of SGCC, said that the project greatly enhanced China’s  scientific technology in electric power, upgraded power transmission and transformation equipment manufacturing industry, gained bigger voice for China on the international arena in the electrical technology industry, and established China’s leading role in world’s UHV industry.

  On 25th September, 1000kV Huainan-Zhebei-Shanghai UHV AC project was put into operation, establishing a milestone in the world’s UHV history. It is introduced that the project is the first commercially operated double-circuit UHV AC transmission project on same tower, whose transmission capacity per corridor is doubled than single-circuit technology. It represents the highest level in UHV AC transmission technology, equipment manufacturing and engineering application in the world.

  Chen Weijiang introduced that facing the challenges, SGCC organized people from over 100 organizations from the electric power industry and the mechanical industry to tackle a series of worldwide problems in areas of system design, equipment manufacturing, installation, testing and readjustment of the double-circuit UHV AC transmission system on the same tower through domestic research and independent innovation. It can be said that Huainan-Zhebei-Shanghai UHV AC project not only broke new records in UHV AC technology but also upgraded the electric equipment manufacturing industry.

  For example, the project first invented the loaded voltage-regulating UHV transformer and single-column UHV shunt reactor with a rated capacity of 240MW. The manufacturing quality and reliability of domestic UHV equipment has been systematically enhanced, able for mass production. In addition, based on the innovative experience, China has made leapfrog progress in the organization, management, S&T, manufacturing, construction and operation in the transmission and transformation projects, laying a solid foundation for large-scale construction of UHV grids.

  Adhere to independent innovation to command new height in S&T 

  SGCC never stops moving forward and innovating, which is the only way for eternal brightness. The company is now aiming at higher objectives after realizing the system design of  ±800kV UHV DC project and the domestication of overall construction.

  Gao Liying introduced that based on the research results of the ±800kV/5000A UHV converter valve, SGCC also successfully installed the world’s first valve tower prototype with ±1100kV/5000A UHV DC converter valve of independent property rights of China, a remarkable accomplishment in the high-end products of UHV industry. Its operational test was successfully conducted at the same time. This can play as a pillar to the demand from constructing higher-grade UHV DC projects, and enrich and improve the UHV theology.

  It is known that this scientific program carried out a series of scientific researches such as research on steady-state electromagnetic disturbance characteristics of large capacity UHV converter valve and research on upgrading the anti-electromagnetic ability of valve monitoring equipment in unfavorable electromagnetic conditions for the ±1100kV Zhundong-Sichuan UHV DC project. At the same time, the project put forward new design theories such as optimized design of grading and shielding system, light thyristor installation structure, and compacted triggering monitor system.

RWF: I think higher voltage than 800kV in a supergrid is not needed. If we go with the low cost conductor sodium, sealed in high strength alloy shells, then the lowest total cost for conductor + insulator occurs around 400-600kV...more on that below the SGCC document end.
  SGCC Chairman Liu Zhengya also introduced in the recently held International Smart Grid Forum that the transmission capacity for ±1100kV UHV DC technology and equipment could reach 13.75GW with an economic transmission distance of 5000km, providing the foundation for cross-regional, cross-national and cross-continental power transmission lines. With that Africa and the Middle East can be linked together, and there can be a big grid in South America.

  President of IEC, Dr. Klaus Wucherer pointed out resource was distributed unevenly in many countries. Since UHV can reduce the loss in long-distance transmission, it will have a bright future in other places of the world, too. Right now, China is leading in the technology of UHV transmission. The UHV AC voltage in China is promoted in the world as the international standard.  

  Source: China Energy News


Scientific American Article that disparages the supergrid

For now, this is a place-holder. Below is a letter by Roy Morrison about the Scientific American article. I will write my own letter to the editor later, and substitute/modify the text below from Roy.

Prospects for Continental Grids

Vacil Smil's prediction (Scientific American Jan. 2014) of a long and painfully slow rise of solar and wind, offering little in way of timely greenhouse gas reduction, is an accurate business as usual projection.

But facing global ecological catastrophe means these are not usual times. In fact, Smil correctly indicates that continental scale efficient renewable energy grids, that are inherently self-balancing, represents a potential game changer1Alas, Smil says, there is sometimes opposition to power line construction, and leaves it at that. This is opposition that can be and must be circumvented for us to gain the huge economic benefits of continental grids. 

I have been working on the idea of putting high capacity HVDC lines underground for many years; the elpipe is but one example of a high capacity HVDC underground electricity pipeline (though I am convinced it is the most practical approach). I am of course pushing for my solution, but there are at least three other examples of technologies that move the supergrid underground:

  • Gas-insulated lines;
  • High temperature superconducting (HTS) lines (cooled by liquid nitrogen);
  • Type 1 superconducting lines, cooled with liquid helium or liquid hydrogen in a few cases (notably, magnesium diboride).
Each of these alternatives has flaws that elpipes do not, as is discussed elsewhere in my blog.

 Moving the main links of a continental grid underground would overcome the opposition (most of it, anyhow) to the new powerlines needed for a continental-scale supergrid. There is a pathway forward to continental scale efficient renewable grids and green house gas reduction before it is too late.

1See Gregor Czisch (2010). “Scenarios for a Future Electricity Supply”. The Institution of Engineering and Technology, ISBN 978-84919-156-2; Original German language dissertation is available as a free download from Kassel University (http://www.agenda21-treffpunkt.de/doku/sign.php?sg=Czisch-2006).

I also found this excellent letter about Smil's SA article by Doug MacKenzie, posted online on his blog:


Eurocentric Treatment of Supergrid Roll-Out Strategy

I submitted an article titled "Underground Multi-Terminal HVDC Supergrid in Europe"
for publication in the Wiley trade magazine Natural Gas & Electricity (manuscript submitted December 18, 2013). With each article, I try to introduce a new concept, and in this case I look at the case for HVDC loops as the unit cells of a European Supergrid, with special reference to Germany:

I see similar possibilities within single states in the US; especially California or Texas. This previous post explains why I think that HVDC loops are the natural "unit cells" of a supergrid. That is a convenient fact, because it means that portions of the supergrid that lie completely within one political jurisdiction can also be meaningful projects in their own right; not necessarily dependent on the entire continental scale supergrid being built.


Elpipe patent will be granted in the US

The national phase patent applications have been working through patent offices around the world. I am pleased that I will get 20 claims in the US, as seen in this modified US patent application on elpipes. As is customary, there was some narrowing of claim 1; I had to add wheels to the minimum definition of elpipes in claim 1:

1. A modular high-voltage direct current electric power transmission system, comprising:
an elongated containment system, the conduit;
a plurality of elongated generally annular rigid primary conductors, which comprise the central portion of the segment modules, generally aligned end-to-end within the containment system;
a plurality of splice transition conductors which are connected to each end of the primary conductors;
a generally annular primary insulator surrounding each of the primary conductors;
a plurality of compliant conductive electrical splice members, one splice member located between and electrically coupled to opposed ends of the primary conductors, to accomplish electrical continuity while allowing for axial misalignment between such conductors;
a plurality of splice insulators, one such a splice insulator surrounding each splice member; and
further comprising wheels located between the primary insulator and the containment system.

Here is the actual text of the written office action (page 8):

3. Claims 1-20 are allowed
    The prior art taken either in singularity or in combination fails to anticipate or fairly suggest the limitations of the independent claim 1...

I have filed plenty of patents before, and I never had such a letter approving all my claims. As claim 1 reads, my invention applies to any kind of flexible powerline that can move like a train inside a pipeline conduit. That means that 100 km sections of MIND cable can be unwound off a ship directly into the conduit; if such a cable is transported by robots that carry the cable, that is an embodiment of my invention. To visualize how that will work...think army ants with the cable on their backs. The installation and rapid repair method works for superconducting lines, though the minimum bend radius for different superconductors varies a lot. 

The patent will publish in three months, and I intend to use that time to ready a crowd-source investment strategy to get me to the first 100kV prototype, with a complete design for an 800kV elpipe. Right now, I am on both GUST and Wefunder. In general, I am looking for a "qualified investor" under SEC rules to put in at least $25k at a very good valuation. When that happens, I can then be listed on Wefunder, where I hope to raise $1 million via crowdsource funding to get me to the first 100kV prototype and finish the international patents. This prototype will then help a more conservative set of investors to come in for $35 million to build an 800kV working elpipe.


I was in the ten out of 200 applicants to present at the Silicon Valley Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum.

I was one of ten presenters to the full SVIEF conference (chosen from a pool of 200 applicants). Al Gore and Steve Wozniak were headliner speakers. I spoke about elpipes (primarily) and HVDC Ballistic Breakers (somewhat) as enabling technologies for a supergrid (Electric Pipeline Corporation).

Here is my presentation. I will post a video when I receive it from the conference organizers.

I had a spirited exchange with the judges; at one point I cut one of them off who was blathering on with way out of date information on the Tesla/Edison "War of the Currents" that has not been true since 1960!
In this talk, I spoke from the heart about something I care a lot about. And unlike in the US, the Chinese are not averse to big, world-changing technologies. I am hoping they decide to do it, and that I get to be a part of it. In fact I'd like to lead the development team. As in the US, though, the government must lead on something this big.

EPC also got a free booth at SVIEF 2013; In the picture below, that is me (Roger Faulkner) on the right, my Dr. Imayavaramban Munuswamy on the left, and Bryan Steele of USgrid.us (who came to help out) in the middle.

The SVIEF 2013 occurred November 2 in Santa Clara. I got my booth for free (I won it) and I just learned October 29 that I'd be one of 10 entrepreneurs  to present to the whole conference. 

This quote puts the HVDC opportunity in perspective:
> If every system that has been announced for commissioning between now and 2020 is actually built, the cumulative global capital requirements for HVDC systems would be around $217 billion, according to Navigant Research.
Of the officially announced HVDC budgets and schedules, Navigant reckons only about half will be built, leading it to conclude in a 2012 report that there is an 80 per cent probability that the cumulative spending for HVDC systems between 2012 and 2020 will range between $110 billion and $120 billion.

I have something really new, but made up of well-proven pieces. Because of that, elpipes can be developed and implemented quickly. They are patent pending in China, US, EU, India, Canada, and Malaysia. I need to find investment to complete the patent process, and that creates an opportunity for a relatively small investment to create a very valuable position. 

Elpipes are 
 enablers of a supergrid, and a supergrid is the fastest feasible way to decarbonize the Chinese economy. We in the West have lost our taste for big technology solutions; this is now the mantle for China to take forward. I am working with a group that sponsored the "World Culture Forum" in Taihu; I do not understand Chinese politics, but I do know that two politburo members with strong environmental credentials were behind the World Culture Forum, and are now evaluating my proposal
 to move China towards a supergrid
. It is vital for the world that China leads in the development of a Eurasian Supergrid.

The construction of a Eurasian supergrid will logically start either in China, India, 
 the EU. Among all the entities in the world I can think of to develop elpipes, I have no doubt that it c
 be accomplished fastest in China. 

There is a backstory to this. Since I was a teenager, I have thought about underground electric pipelines; I got the basic idea of a supergrid from R. Buckminster Fuller when I was a teenager, and I thought of elpipes then, more than 30 years ago. When I studied physics I learned how to calculate the mass of the conductor needed. A lot more conductor is used in an elpipe than a set of overhead lines (from 3-18 times more than equal capacity overhead lines), but not more volume of conductor than will fit comfortably inside a typical gas pipeline. My invention is a high voltage current carrying train, in which the cars of the train are rigid bus pipes, linked through flexible couplings much like rail cars. The track is the inside surface of the pipeline which is just like a gas pipeline with no elbows or tight bends. 

I decided to act on this idea in late 2008, after Obama was elected. I applied in the first round of the ARPA-E program and three more times since then. I was first runner up in the 2009 Ignite Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, then spent a year with my partner Ron Todd making venture capital pitches until he quit in 2010 after I failed to get a deal with ABB (it was a close call, though). 

In 2011-2012 I shifted my focus to medium voltage DC applications of Ballistic Breakers, which could be important enabling technologies for DC microgrids. My heart was never really in that, though. I am so glad to have had another chance to pitch elpipes and HVDC Ballistic Breakers.

The most important application for Ballistic Breakers is in enabling a multi-terminal HVDC supergrid. HVDC Ballistic Breakers will be less expensive than ABB's new HVDC circuit breaker. The combination of elpipes for high capacity bulk transfer and Ballistic Breakers as low cost HVDC circuit breakers are powerfully enabling for a future HVDC supergrid. 


Grounding and Ground Current Return HVDC Systems

I have posted on both the PES Linkedin Group and CIGRE, but have not gotten a good answer about grounding HVDC converter stations. 

I note that directional drilling is now very advanced, and gas wells are routinely drilled more than 2 km deep, and can turn through a desirable rock formation at depth (normally, this is for "fracking"). Such a well can be drilled for less than $1 million in most cases, and I think it would be highly desirable to use this technology for HVDC ground electrodes. I envision a ground electrode which is ELECTRICALLY INSULATED from the ground down to about one km, and which turns horizontal in an underground saline aquifer (which are found nearly everywhere on Earth at some depth). This method of grounding would eliminate ground currents near the surface, and might well enable a more economical implementation of HVDC projects. Has this been tried anywhere in the world as far as you know? Is there some issue holding this up technically, or is this simply a case of technology momentum?

I was recently in a workshop on HVDC, and Ramy Azar of SNC-Lavalin said he was aware of no HVDC converter station ground electrode that is deeper than 200 meters anywhere in the word. I think it is obvious why ground currents have been problematic in light of that. 

Because of the skin effect, AC currents stay on the surface of the Earth. DC on the other hand goes deep. If DC currents on the order of 10kA (a big converter station) are injected into a saline aquifer 2 km down, it might not even be possible to detect the current at the surface. This method of current return nearly cuts the cost of the needed transmission line in half (because with ground return a single elpipe, cable, or overhead line can move the power, though with far greater magnetic anomalies near unbalanced monopole transmission lines with ground return than would be the case with metallic current return path near the outbound conductor.

I have come to think now that the really high power lines of the HVDC supergrid (>10kA) must always be bipoles, but that for small lines, monopole configurations would be OK, and would save money. For example, a 100 MW substation could power a remote town. To move 100 MW based on a +/-800kV supergrid can be accomplished by a monopole with ground return, which would imply an imbalanced current of only 125 amps. This seems to me to be OK. Such a supergrid would be based on a backbone of underground bipoles designed for high current. Up to 400MW or so, converter stations off of the supergrid main line would be fed by a monopole with ground return, which greatly reduces the cost of the elpipe connector. By taking different small converter stations off the + and - poles of the supergrid, one tries to balance + pole current with - pole currents at all points in the bipolar supergrid but of course with monopolar connectors, the bipole circuit cannot be in balance everywhere.This problem is analogous to the placement of single phase transforners on a three phase power distribution line.

The larger converter stations > 400MW will still be bipoles, but with grounded neutrals. This allows an imbalance of the two poles, which will be used to re-balance the current in the two major bipoles at the point where the +/- 800kV tap into the main loop occurs. 

I had this informative interaction with Stig Nilsson on this topic:

On Wednesday, December 11, 2013 11:33 AM, Stig Nilsson wrote:
THE NESC prohibits operation with ground return.  

Sent: Thursday, December 12, 2013 7:04 PM
To: Stig Nilsson
Subject: Re: New comment on "HVDC Converter Station Grounding"
I know that, but is it appropriate with a deep electrode that goes into a saline aquifer 2 km down? And I thought they allow 30 minutes of emergency ground return in any case?

On Thursday, December 12, 2013 10:22 PM, Stig Nilsson wrote:
Deep electrodes have been tried but not in the US but it is still against the code here. And, 30 minutes is not enough.

From: Roger Faulkner
Sent: Sunday, December 15, 2013 2:06 PM
To: Stig Nilsson
Subject: Re: New comment on "HVDC Converter Station Grounding"
Thanks for that Stig. By "deep" do you mean oil well deep? I'm thinking maybe 2 miles or more, with the first shallow mile insulated, then going horizontal in a saline aquifer way down deep. I cannot imagine any serious environmental consequences of doing that. Dale Osborn pointed out to me that the rules against ground return are based on HVAC, where they make sense due to the skin effect, but that DC "dives deep." 

On Monday, December 16, 2013 9:47 AM, Stig Nilsson wrote:
The NESC committee has refused to consider any changes so far.  Intermountain power project (IPP) has typically 4 A into the ground and is fighting a multi-million dollar lawsuit.

From: Roger Faulkner
Sent: Monday, December 16, 2013 8:46 AM
To: Stig Nilsson
Subject: Re: New comment on "HVDC Converter Station Grounding"
This is irrational for DC with deep ground return, as you know. Does anyone anywhere use insulated leads  for deep grounding into a saline aquifer?

On Monday, December 16, 2013 3:50 PM, Stig Nilsson wrote:
It does not matter if it is irrational or not because the standards apply until changed.  It is an issue that has been fought in the US since the early ‘60ies when the private utilities tried to stop the Pacific HVDC Intertie project between Oregon and LA.  The pipeline people sued it as a way to block the project.  It does not matter that all of the cathodic protection systems already push a lot of current into the ground and that the pipeline companies probably have to corrode bridges etc. when they cross under a bridge with their cathodic protection. They have managed to avoid bringing that to light and to use it against the DC community. But, I am too old to fight windmills.

From: Roger Faulkner
On Monday, December 16, 2013 3:56 PM, Roger Faulkner wrote:
I knew there had to be a back story...thanks for that!

In view of this background (thanks for that, Stig!) It makes ever more sense to try to work with the pipeline folks. I have written several articles recently aimed at this, including one for Arab Construction World and one for Natural Gas & Electricity.


Hyperloop-elpipe hybridization

I commented in an email on the hyperloop concept, then I learned there is a blogsite about hyperloop, so I reposted the below email, with a header, at that website:
(still awaiting moderation)

here is my original email; the four attached documents have been linked within the text, which is slightly modified, below:

From: Roger Faulkner <roger@elpipe.com>
To: hyperloop@spacex.com; hyperloop@teslamotors.com
Sent: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 10:11 AM
Subject: Thanks for your excellent transportation concept & some refinement suggestions

in re:
>Feedback would be most welcome – <snip>. I would like to thank my excellent compadres at both companies for their help in putting this together...Elon Musk

Elon & team:
I congratulate you for thinking big. It is amazing to me that we are still building roads, RR, and electrical transmission lines by field fabrication, rather than by using appropriate automated fabrication methods (as you have proposed). I have heard loud criticism to the effect that your economics must be way off, based on comparing costs to existing methods...what nonsense! 

I am a polymer scientist/chemical engineer by training, and I can see that your concept is indeed workable. I have been trying to figure out how to move the conversation along on another big and synergistic problem where we are stuck in the past: power transmission. In fact, I see the possibility of achieving even better economics for the hyperloop by also arranging for the conduit you need to construct for the train to carry HVDC power, in the form of a pair of elpipes (my invention, described briefly below, and in the attached documents). I suggested elpipes following ordinary roads and railroads , but the rapid deployment potential for hyperloops makes them an exciting technology to consider for hybridization.

We NEED a supergrid (continental scale transmission grid) to enable renewable energy to be the basis of our economy (because the aggregated reliability of wind + solar is much higher than the local reliability). One still needs energy storage in a supergrid, but much less is needed if there are well-sited generators in 3-5 weather zones. An ongoing study by NOAA will show that a supergrid is highly cost effective for the US, but all the "transmission insiders" would pooh-pooh the chance that a  supergrid could be completed in a decade. If one adds the benefits of hyperloop vehicles with building the supergrid it adds up to a real economic revolution that would put the brakes on GHG emissions faster than anything else.

Elpipes are high capacity electric power lines in which the conductors are relatively rigid pipe-shaped segments. The lowest cost solution is sodium inside a steel pipe; as an example, a 24-inch steel pipe filled with solid sodium at 85 degrees C, achieves low enough resistance to carry 62.5 GW with 1% loss per 1000 km. The attached recent article for Arab Construction World shows that conductor cost for this solution is only $2.2 per meter for the conductor only, if sodium is used (the steel pipe to hold the sodium costs more than the conductor in this case). Aluminum is ~5 times more, but doesn't need the steel pipe. Copper may be used in the junctions, but would comprise <5% of the conductor. Elpipes can achieve lower cost/MW-km than any other method.

Unlike superconductors, elpipes are not complex. Up to ~30 GW, elpipes can shed their waste heat passively. It helps greatly of they are not buried, as would be the case if elpipes ran bellow or above your hyperloop system. Combining the elpipes and hyperloops is a powerful idea.

Roger Faulkner, President & Founder
Ballistic Breaker Corporation (www.ballisticbreaker.com)
Electric Pipeline Corporation (www.elpipe.com)


Can we keep the jobs at home?

Building the supergrid is the biggest work project of this century. There are lots of jobs that could either be US jobs (if we manufacture the elpipe modules here for the supergrid) or they could go elsewhere:
  • aluminum extrusion
  • sodium smelting
  • elastomer products
  • special greases
  • copper braid/elastomer junctions
  • sensors & control systems
  • main drives for elpipe cars
  • brakes
If I take my invention to China, many of these jobs will be in China. 

It is in the long term interests of US workers to develop the Supergrid here and export it. It is a trillion dollars worth of hardware over the next 50 years. 

Had the US DOE encouraged my ARPA-E proposals on elpipes in 2009 or 2010, elpipes would now be well advanced, but they are not. If I get the chance to develop elpipes with Chinese partners, I will do that, because I have not been able to find US support so far. Perhaps some of these components will still be manufactured here, but if I go to China to develop elpipes, the engineering will be done in China. 

I am perticipating in the China International Working Group, which is an effort to make an historic change in China's ecological posture, acknowledging the need to do something fast. The Supergrid is the ring that binds all the thousands of small and large energy projects together.


Gratitude for the Help I have Received on Elpipes

My partner and fiance Li reminded me recently of all the help I have received while pursuing my BIG DREAM, to help to enable continental scale supergrids via my two inventions, elpipes and Ballistic Breakers. The bigger is the system that one seeks to change, the longer it generally takes. I am now into my fifth year pursuing this big idea, and I often now run into people at conferences who have at least heard of elpipes and/or Ballistic Breakers. I firmly believe my ideas are practical and doable, and even though I have so far not yet gotten any funding for elpipe development, I have managed to file national phase patent applications based on my 2010 PCT patent application in 6 countries. Along the way, I participated in several business plan competitions, wrote more than ten articles, and got major help from many people I thank below. I know I will miss some; please forgive me!

The two people who have helped me the most are my partner/fiance Li Feng and Ron Todd, who was my CTO for a year. The first industry luminary who gave me help (long before EPC was formed as a company by Ron Todd and I) was Professor Willis (Bill) Long of UW-Madison, back in 1991 (Bill was my expert witness in the Advance 6 planning process before the Wisconsin PSC). I also met Peter Meisen, founder of GENI, the Global Energy Network Institute in 1991, while preparing my testimony. The idea lay dormant until 2008, when in response to a NYSERDA grant opportunity I made a proposal for a regional HVDC loop with the help of several professors, especially J. Keith Nelson of Rensellaer, but also Joe Chow of Rensellaer,  and Mariesa Crow of the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Though the January 2009 NYSERDA Application was unsuccessful, it formed the basis for the subsequent ARPA-E concept paper that I filed in June 2009 (this application also had participation by professors Stanislav Grzybowski of Mississippi State, Tom Overby at UI-Urbana-Champaign, Ron Spahr of the University of Memphis, Ranbir Singh of GeneSiC, and Alcoa). My trusty assistant Ken Mumby at my previous company Rethink Technologies was instrumental on both my NYSERDA and the first ARPA-E application, which were filed from my Rethink address. Putting so much emphasis on these new ideas caused Rethink to fail, and Ken was out of a job. I still hope to hire him back when my new ventures get traction.

I met Chuck Warren of Alcoa and Ranbir Singh of GeneSiC Semiconductor at the Electricity Storage Association meeting in May 2009, where I was a speaker presenting another big idea, the Niagara Pumped Storage concept; this was the first time I spoke to a conference audience about both the concept of pumped storage operating between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario (the biggest pumped storage opportunity in North America), and also elpipes. The concept of a +10 to -14 GW pumped storage facility at Niagara only makes sense in the context of a North American supergrid, and I used the presentation to introduce the concept of elpipes, which Chuck Warren immediately saw as an exciting new market for aluminum. Because of Chuck, Alcoa joined me on my first two attempts to get ARPA-E funding for elpipes.

After that first ARPA-E concept paper I next pursued elpipes in the MIT Enterprise Forum business plan competition "Ignite Clean Energy" (ICE) which has since joined with the CleanTech Open. My mentors in that process included Ron Todd, Harvey Leong, Mark Barnett, and Todd Piett. With their help, I was first runner-up on the ICE competition, and right after that I formed Electric Pipeline Corporation (EPC) with Ron Todd. The first major presentation after ICE was a seminar at MIT arranged by Professor Markus Zahn, who was on three out of four of my ARPA-E concept papers. Isidor Sauers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory also came up for our MIT seminar, and Ron and I later gave a second seminar at Oak Ridge, arranged by Isidor. Then began a year-long journey through VC presentations, culminating in a week long interaction with ABB in Zurich and Datwil; the story is told here. I would particularly like to thank Girish Nadkarni, Claes Rytoft, and Willi Paul of ABB for the chance to put elpipes in front of them. Lots of other current and former ABB folks have helped me as well; in no particular order: Stig Nilsson; Gunnar Asplund; Dale Osborn; Le Tang; Roger Rosenqvist, Kurt Kaltenegger, Mischa Steurer, and Steinar Dale. I also want to  thank Alstom Grid (especially Neil Kirby and Roger Critchley, now retired) for helping me understand multi-terminal HVDC. Hermann Koch of Siemens and Mel Hopkins of AZZ technology were also very helpful in understanding gas insulated lines (a competitive technology to elpipes).

More recently in early 2011, I met Gregor Czisch, a long-time European Supergrid advocate and scientist. He Completed his Ph.D. at Kassel University in February 2005, and his study topic was to show how best to power Europe with renewable energy. If you read German, his dissertation is must reading to understand the need for a supergrid. We have been cooperating since we met.

Joe Corbett of Mainstream Renewable Power has been very helpful since we met in early 2011 (around the same time I met Gregor Czisch). Joe is Eddie O'Connor's right-hand man (Head of Technical Services) at Mainstream, and also quite involved with Friends of the Supergrid (FOSG). I initially met him in my attempts to reach Eddie O'Connor, founder of both Mainstream Renewable Power and FOSG, and before that, of Airtricity as well. Eddie is probably the wealthiest supergrid advocate, and he has done very good work through Friends of the Supergrid to move the supergrid concept forward in Europe, with a slant towards offshore wind energy (I still have not met Eddie).

Just recently, I was honored to be invited by retiring FERC Chairman Wellinghoff to come in and explain elpipes for him, Joe McClelland (Director of FERC's Office of Energy Infrastructure Security), and two other engineers. I share FERC's physical security concerns for our current overhead power lines and vulnerable transformers. As I've been writing this, it occurs to me that I have had help from an all-star cast of industry luminaries; thank you all so much!

Dale Osborn (Transmission Technical Director at Midwest ISO) deserves special mention, because he independently conceived of the basic concept of HVDC Electric Pipelines, before I ever met him. I met Dale through Ron Spahr, Professor of Finance at the University of Memphis. (I met Ron because he was also working on an ARPA-E long distance transmission concept paper in Phase 1 that was somewhat similar to mine; we decided to list each other on our two submitted ARPA-E concept papers in 2009.) Here is a sketch of Dale Osborn's conceptual HVDC electric pipeline, prepared before we met in 2009: