Project to slash wasted power: watts in it for data centres?

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    Innovation in capacitor cable technology could deliver huge efficiency gains. Eland Cables is working with Brunel University and the Welding Institute on a grant-funded project to tackle the problem of losses in traditional power distribution cable. The project could have a significant impact on a wide range of industries

    Eland Cables is participating in a £1m Innovate UK grant-funded project to deliver pioneering new cable technology. The new long linear capacitor cable technology, dubbed the Capacitive Transfer System (CTS), promises to slash power loss in the UK transmission, distribution and renewable generation sectors, yielding significant economic and environmental benefits. 

    Invented by Enertechnos, it is supported by a select consortium of partners, including Eland Cables, in order to bring this proven concept to a real-world application.

    Jean-Sébastien Pelland, director at Eland Cables, comments: “While we’re constantly asked to think more about energy efficiency in our homes and businesses, there is also a huge amount of energy lost before it even reaches us – the commercial and environmental gains of a more efficient transmission and distribution system are staggering.”

    He explains that the technology is similar in theory to a traditional capacitor, where two metallic plates are separated by a dielectric material, and the charge on one plate creates a potential difference in the opposite plate.

    Capacitors in their usual form will be used in electronic circuits to block DC power and allow AC power to flow unhindered – effectively working on a single point in a circuit. As existing cables ‘leak’ AC power through the insulation, resulting in cumulative losses over the cable length, the challenge has been in taking this technology and changing it from being just a single point to working as a cable would – moving this unhindered flow along a path to the terminal, while retaining the ‘look’ of a cable so as to retain as much of the existing infrastructure, machine tooling, and indeed the skillset of the installers in order to give it real-world relevance.

    The statistics show just how important this technology could be: the UK currently loses approximately 27 terawatt hours (around 7.6%) of the power it generates during transmission and distribution. This equates to £1.1bn spent annually on wasted power, and based on the 2016 average carbon intensity of 275g of carbon emitted per kilowatt hour produced, could account for as much as 7,425,000 tonnes of carbon.

    Eland Cables’ MV cable experts and ISO17025 UKAS cable test laboratory are using their extensive experience in the development and production of prototypes, blending the CTS technology with existing cable manufacturing processes to produce a product that will deliver the performance while meeting the standards and long-term requirements of a buried power distribution cable. Beyond the prototype phase, they will then commission a full manufacturing run.

    The other project partners working with Enertechnos and Eland Cables on this exciting project are:

    Brunel University’s Institute of Energy Futures, which will develop a software simulation programme to test CTS on a virtual grid to demonstrate the energy savings across extended cable runs

    The Welding Institute (TWI), which is supporting with materials handling, jointing and other practical installation assistance to ensure that the in-field deployment of this cable can be achieved in the same manner as existing products

    This technology already has an agreed test site running 15km of ‘standard’ cable alongside the installation to offer direct comparison. When the results of this test site demonstrate the significantly lower levels of loss, the commercial viability of the CTS cable is enormous. With over 60 million kilometres of power distribution cable in use in the UK, of which 75% is over 25 years old, this new technology can deliver potentially huge efficiency gains when the network is updated.

    Mission critical sites

    So how could this technology make a difference for mission critical power sectors?

    Pelland comments: “This cable has the potential to make a difference for every industry and for data centres in particular; you already have areas where no further sites can locate owing to power restrictions, but with up to 20% more power reaching end-to-end with the new CTS cables, this is significant additional capacity on the existing power available from the Grid (for no extra cost and no additional carbon emissions).”

    He explains that this would allow for site upgrades for more powerful and larger volume servers and systems. Similarly, for data centres being supplied and supported by renewable energy solutions, including solar arrays and wind turbines, these cables could increase the volume of power reaching the point of delivery, even over relatively short distances – again, getting more for the same amount of power generated.

    “With global energy demand set to increase by 48% by 2060, the roll-out of the electrified, digital railway, and the growth of new technologies such as electric vehicles, it looks as if the potential gains across a number of industries will only increase.”

    Pelland explains that the cable works at both a macro and micro grid level – there are significant system gains to be made even on small-scale private grid networks.

    “If you look to the wider National Grid, it would be an immense undertaking to replace all existing power distribution cables with this new technology, and any eventual adoption will come over years of planned maintenance and upgrades.

    “Until then you’ll have to balance the new gains with the around 7.2% losses still existing from legacy cable. With micro grids, however, there’s the opportunity to install these cables across the entire network, allowing for bigger overall gains across the network as a whole,” says Pelland.

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