Underwater Transmission Could be the Solution to Get a Renewable Wind-Powered USA

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Generating 20 percent of America’s electricity with wind, which is crucial to our future safety, growth and prosperity, would require building up to 22,000 miles of new high-voltage transmission lines.

But how to get renewable energy from the empty windy plains far from population centers, when nobody ever wants to see any more transmission line built anywhere near anybody? Ever?


Here’s one novel solution. Transmission cables placed out of sight under water provide an apparently uncontroversial way to send renewable electricity from the isolated and desolate areas of the nation that are abundant in wind – to where we live, inside heavy cables down the coasts under the ocean, or  along riverbeds or along the floors of lakes.

To put it another way: “The fish don’t vote,” as Edward M. Stern of PowerBridge, one company that is now working on laying underwater cable to send power down the Atlantic coast, told Mathew Wald of The New York Times. Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution! Stern’s company has already succeeded in building a 65-mile offshore cable from New Jersey to Long Island and is now working another that would bring wind power from Maine along the Atlantic coast into Boston. Not a peep out of the opposition.

Because you can’t see underwater cables carrying electrical power, they engender little of the opposition that land based transmission does. Underwater transmission lines for electricity could make off-shore wind power easier for bringing wind from the plains states to the coasts where most of the US population is, down the Missouri River and other rivers that traverse the USA.

A Canadian underwater transmission company,  Transmission Developers proposes putting in a 370-mile line along the bottom of Lake Champlain from Canada, down the Hudson River past New York and down the coast to Connecticut; in one of the longest submarine power cables in the world, and will bring Canadian hydroelectric power to New York.

Underwater transmission involves cables unrolled from giant reels, and some help from gravity lays them down into place. Currently they cost more, mostly for transforming the electricity to direct current needed for underwater cable, and because the technology is not yet widely used.

But in general direct current is getting a new look, because over long distances from likely renewable energy sources, it has lower line losses. It is increasingly being considered for the much needed overhaul of the central grids.

New technology offered by two European companies, Siemens and ABB, has lowered the cost for some direct current projects, and shrunk the size of the terminals where alternating current is converted to direct current and back, a crucial consideration in urban projects.

Underwater cable still costs more than twice as much as the tower type. Standard lines hung on towers run up to $4 million a mile, depending on terrain and other factors. But PowerBridge’s 65 mile cable cost about $600 million, or a bit over $9 million a mile.

However,  quibbling over the cost of something that is practically impossible to get built, compared with something that can be and is being built is a bit silly. As the CEO of Transmission Developers puts it:

“If you can’t get them built, because the communities you want to serve don’t want them, then in our opinion they are infinitely expensive.”

Image: Wikipedia

Source: The New York Times

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