Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Elpipes and Ballistic Breakers

My inter-related inventions on high capacity HVDC transmission are key enablers for a supergrid. And a supergrid is the key to developing an energy economy based on aggregating numerous non-dispatchable generation resources (wind, solar, tidal). Both inventions are simple and seem obvious once you hear of them, yet both are revolutionary innovations. These innovations could make it practical to share hundreds of gigawatts (GW) of power across Europe, Asia, or North America, for example (this is the order of magnitude of new transmission needed to create a renewable energy economy).

Elpipes combine a gas pipeline with a high capacity power line which has features of a train. An elpipe is a very heavy high voltage DC (HVDC) power line that can carry more power than any overhead power line, with lower transmission loss. To do this, elpipes use more than 10 times as much conductor as the largest overhead lines; an elpipe is made up of heavy rigid conductors that are effectively the rail cars of an elpipe train. The elpipe train can run on conventional rails, or it can be designed to run inside a pipeline. An elpipe train could be thousands of kilometers long, yet the entire elpipe would be fabricated at one location, then rolled into the conduit like a very long, low speed electric train. This method of installation splits the project into three parts: building the conduit, which is either a rail line or a gas pipeline; fabrication of the “elpipe cars” in a factory process; and assembly of the “elpipe cars” into a train at one single point of assembly (in a clean room environment, with sophisticated quality control inspection equipment deployed). This is very good for both cost of the elpipe and for reliability of the splices.

The movable nature of the elpipe makes it possible to repair and maintain it without digging it up. The preferred installation option is inside a pipeline that is essentially identical to a gas pipeline. This de-risks the cost of installation: the cost to install a gas pipeline can be estimated very well compared to an overhead power line, which often faces vociferous opposition and resultant delays and cost overruns. Another intriguing possibility is to install the elpipe on conventional rail lines that are otherwise going to be taken out of service. An elpipe line could be made to look like a fence for example, if installed in this way; it would not need to be any more than one meter high.

The other missing piece of the puzzle for enabling a supergrid is a very high capacity low cost circuit breaker for HVDC power. The power electronic HVDC circuit breakers being offered by ABB are too expensive and too lossy to work at the scale needed in development of a supergrid. Ballistic Breakers are my second surprisingly simple innovation: these devices enable DC circuit breakers to be developed at any voltage and power level.

My innovations are truly disruptive, and very much needed right now. I have so far decided to
"play nice" with the utilities, since the easiest way to move this forward would be if the utilities realized that they need the supergrid, and that elpipes and Ballistic Breakers are critical enabling technologies. If American Electric Power (AEP), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), or HydroQuebec realized how important my inventions can be to the future of centralized utility companies, they would back EPC; however, this has not happened, and all the utilities keep repeating their misleading mantra, that:

"Underground power lines are 10 times as expensive as overhead lines." 

Which is real nonsense; it is only true sometimes because viable alternatives have been actively suppressed. I am now ready to work with citizen's groups opposing power lines around the country, as that seems to be one of the only ways forward to move heavy power infrastructure underground in the US. The other possibility is crowdfunding, which I will also try (see below).

I have so far found that US-based venture capital investors will not take an interest in the elpipe because it is "too big, too long term." I have therefore put my startup Electric Pipeline Corporation onto Wefunderhttps://wefunder.com/elpipes 
in hopes that I can get started on this important (and expensive) development soon. It would help me move this forward if you will "follow" me on Wefunder; I expect the US Securities and Exchange Commission will be issuing rules by May that will allow me to raise funds though Wefunder (this is not legal yet, but by following EPC, you will help move me to the front of the queue when the final rules are announced). 

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