Driving Innovation

Partnership with U.S Department of Homeland Security Drives Advancements in Grid Resilience

December 7, 2021

The search for a solution to increase grid resilience- the ability to reduce the magnitude and duration of disruptive events- inspired the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate to launch its Resilient Electric Grid (REG) project in 2007. It built upon the Department of Energy’s (DOE) research on High Temperature Superconducting (HTS) cables that are capable of transporting enormous amounts of electrical current – more than 200 times that of normal copper wire – with zero electrical resistance and losses. In 2014, ComEd accepted an invitation to partner with the DOE and the American Superconductor Company (AMSC) of Massachusetts to bring the technology from the laboratory to the marketplace.  In late September 2021, all parties gathered at a ComEd substation to mark the success of the venture.

“To get the REG system from laboratory testing to in-the-grid operation is very exciting,” said Alexander Joves, regional director of the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, at the commissioning of the superconductor-based system.  “We all know how critical the grid is to our everyday life, our economy, our national security and our well-being, and strengthening the security and resilience of critical infrastructure is a major mission of DHS.” 4:38 PM (News clip of Joves remarks)

The magic of the REG system is superconductivity, or the state where electrical resistance is eliminated. Most materials have some amount of electrical resistance, which means they resist the flow of electricity in the same way a narrow pipe resists the flow of water. Exceptions include metals, ceramics, organic materials and semiconductors – all of which are found in the superconductor cable, enabling it to transport electrical current without resistance. But there’s a catch – the cable must be kept at extremely cold temperatures to prevent overheating, which could cause the system to essentially turn off.     

That’s why the REG system’s refrigeration process cools liquid nitrogen to 337 degrees below zero — cold enough to achieve “superconductivity.”  For perspective, the coldest temperature ever recorded on earth was in 2010 in Antarctica at 135.8 degrees below zero.    

Terry Donnelly, ComEd’s president and COO, said deployment of the superconductor builds upon a strong commitment to innovation at ComEd. “The modern utility model was created in Chicago in the early 1900s by the company that would become ComEd. Over the last decade we’ve modernized our system with smart grid technology and other innovations that are delivering superior results for customers, including record levels of reliability. But in the face of increasingly severe and frequent storms we’re focused on what it will take to sustain that performance and the superconductor could potentially play a key role.”    

The REG system can be connected to multiple substations, and if one substation fails for any reason, another can step in and provide electricity. It’s like driving on system of highways, streets, and roads where you have multiple routes that can get you to the same destination.