Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Power Lines and Tech Jargon

Power Lines and Tech Jargon

Diving into Transmission Infrastructure


Looking through the PS Buzz’ unfinished article archive, we found an excellent start for another materials and resource based article.  Having just researched the Lego story (see Lego’s search for ABS) it seemed like this could be a good article to polish up and post.

If you’ve had the privilege of driving along a major highway then you may have noticed the existence of transmission lines for communication and power distribution.  They’re so common in our electrified world that it’s become accepted as another part of the visible environment. They provide connections between communities and allow for us to shed off our harsh environments.

Some of you may have even wondered why we have these cables stretching across our landscapes, without really considering how much of a necessity this infrastructure is to our everyday life.  So the plan, for this article, is to give a little bit of insight into THE GRID.

Before getting too ahead of ourselves we should give some backgrounders-

Electrical Grid: An interconnected network for delivering electricity from suppliers to consumers

Peaking Plants: Power plants (typically combustion plants) that provide electricity during periods of high demand

Smart Grid: An electrical network that uses digital information and communication technology (Apps/Social Media) to optimize efficiency and reliability for suppliers/consumers

Mega-joule (MJ): Unit of Energy (1 kWh = 3.6 MJ) 

One more point of clarity before we dive in (this a dense article so we’re trying to keep the constant reader up to speed!) The best way to think of electricity/power lines is to imagine water flowing through a pipe, and for the sake of this scenario let’s assume that water is weightless.

If you are at point A and wanted to send water through a 100km long pipe to, point B, how would you best go about it?  The pipe has a standard size (assume the flow rate is 1 cup of water per second -at its fastest rate) and if you want 60 cups of water it’s going to take at least 1 minute. 

Well, the pressure at point A would have to be significant (to push all that water to point B), and in fact it’s very possible that it wouldn’t make sense to just ‘one shot’ the water.  So you install pumps at crucial points of the pipe to help boost the pressure/flow rate of the water.  

Great, you managed to get the water to point B, but what about the 100km of pipe that’s now filled up?  Well, that potential volume of water will eventually make it to point B. Okay, and now imagine trying to continuously send that water from point A to point B.  (We realize this brief explanation may confuse readers more, but please keep tuning in for more tech talk in future articles!)

So, enough thought experimenting.  

We did a little research into Nova Scotia’s transmission lines (which is currently at its limit and in the process of being revamped where possible) and thought the Buzz could have a little fun with it.

Apologies for the poor quality of the map legend, this picture was obtained from a report conducted by Hatch Ltd.  A link to their 2010 assessment can be found in the resources section! 

Looking at some of these transmission routes The Buzz was interested in determining just how much aluminum wiring is hanging there.  It has to be a butt load, or at least a large amount, so let’s do a little math and see if we can make an estimate.

Now, in the following image the distance between Greenwood and Nova Scotia Trunk 8 is roughly 50 km.  This route is meant to represent the 69 kV lines that provide grid connection to the surrounding communities in that area of the province.  (See Title Image for an example of a 69 kV power line) 

How many lines of conducting wire does this mean?

8 lines per tower, and there is typically 2 towers supporting the lines.
16 lines stretching 50 km- that would be one big spool of wire!

(Taking it a little farther)

The mass of 16 aluminum transmission lines would equal roughly 163, 120 kilograms (Why? Because reasons)

To produce aluminum cables it takes approximately 46 MJ/kg, we’ve cited the Engineering Tool box for property values.

So, If one was to refine enough material for this much transmission line it would take approximately 8,482,283 MJ (enough energy to power 148 homes for a year), just for that one stretch of road.

Keep in mind that this number took quite a few liberties and we made some assumptions.  However the math seems to check out.  Feel free to do your own math and reply to this article!  

Moving away from the heavy handed math, we would like to talk about some of the amazing stuff we’re capable of thanks to the innovation of power lines.  Without a massive grid connecting our hospitals, homes, schools -what have you, it would be a little tricky performing everyday tasks.  So perhaps the refinement process can be forgiven, all the same, dang that’s a lot of energy!

Nova Scotia alone has 31, 800 km of power lines stretching between thousands of sub stations, peaking plants and buildings of all sizes.  And the demand in this area is increasing so it will be interesting to see some of the innovations the Atlantic province will make to address this challenge.

Burden on power grids isn’t unique to Nova Scotia.  In fact many areas across the globe have started investing in smart grid solutions.  What’s the goal?  -Developing a dynamic system that allows for better manipulation of an electrical grid.

The emergence of smart grid systems (something that we will likely cover in more detail in a separate article) is something that yields exciting benefits for us energy consumers.  It will ultimately mean more control for both power producers and consumers.   

Tesla (oh Elon Musk, the world’s greatest mad-scientist) has developed a product called the PowerWall.  The concept is to develop a home energy storage system that people can use to help power their home.

The Buzz sees even bigger potential in a system like this. If buildings were able to connect via a smart grid and ‘share’ energy, well then that would mean grid burden could be a problem of the past.  Who knows, it’s some interesting brain food and a good closing. 

Links as Promised

How NS Power Delivers Electricity-

Hatch Energy Innovations-

Properties of Aluminum-

Midal Cables Ltd (AAC transmission wires)-

Physics of Everyday Stuff (Calculating Resistance of Transmission lines)-

Tesla Power Wall-