Chicago Wants To Install Superconducting Cable To End Power Outages

Illustration for article titled Chicago Wants To Install Superconducting Cable To End Power Outages

With the threat of terrorism and extreme weather perennially perched on the horizon, Chicago's getting creative with its infrastructure upgrades. The city's primary power company, Commercial Edison, is planning to install superconducting cables to prevent outages in the city center. Why doesn't every city do this?


The job sounds pretty simple. ComEd will lay superconducting cable alongside the existing copper cable underground. Both are about the same size, but the superconducting cable can carry about ten times as much power as the regular cable. This makes it comparable to the cables that come directly out of power stations, and means that the grid can reroute power in the event of a catastrophe to prevent a service interruption. At first, the superconducting cables will only serve the Loop area of downtown Chicago.

It's a little bit unclear how well the superconducting cables will actually work, since this is the first commercial application of the technology. And the upgrade won't be cheap either. The Department of Homeland Security has already committed $60 million to the project, and ComEd says it'll cost much more than that when all is said and done. However, when you consider that power outages cost the country $18 billion to $33 a year on average, the investment sounds like it could pay for itself.

Again, ComEd is still in the planning stages, though it's expected to make an announcement about the project on Wednesday. The decision to move forward with such a plan comes a little over a year after some hoodlums attacked a power station in California and just a few months after hackers broke into a public utility room by guessing a password. So at the very least, it's nice to see that cities are responding to these kinds of threats. [Tribune]

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Since when are there superconducting power lines that don't require near absolute zero temps? What am I missing here? Or are we talking about cables with just lower resistance but that are not actually superconducting (i.e. zero resistance) ?