News and Views

New project to test the next steps to renewable Supergrids

17 Dec 2020

A research centre for energy, climate and marine based at University College Cork has joined forces with an Irish tech development company to collaborate on subsea superconductor research to transform large scale power generation from offshore renewables.

MaREI, the world-leading Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine, coordinated by the Environmental Research Institute (ERI) at UCC and SuperNode Ltd, which is developing cutting-edge technological solutions to decarbonise the electricity system, aim to introduce new ways of enabling the efficient transfer of energy from offshore wind developments.

They have launched a collaborative project to facilitate up to 10x faster offshore renewable development globally. The SuperNode concept is focused on providing a single superconductor connection to offshore renewable energy sources. The technology aims to achieve efficient delivery of power back to shore by operating at medium voltage, direct current, and facilitating transmission from energy dense areas offshore to high demand locations via a subsea superconductor.

SuperNode’s technology has the potential to transform the electric power transmission industry and move Europe towards its carbon reduction targets for large scale power generation.

John Fitzgerald, SuperNode CEO said:

“This is an early and significant step in developing this game changing technology to enable more renewables. Direct current is the most efficient way to transport energy over distance on the planet. What superconducting cable systems do that other cables do not is allow higher currents and hence more power to flow on a single circuit. This enables very large offshore wind developments to be phased, grouped and networked to deliver more clean energy faster.”

The project is jointly funded by SuperNode and a grant from Science Foundation Ireland through the MaREI research centre at University College Cork. The project team of 5 includes 3 positions at MaREI and the creation of 2 new full-time positions within SuperNode.

Eoin Hodge, SuperNode CTO said:

“The entire SuperNode team is very excited to work with MaREI on this challenging engineering endeavour to make significant progress towards delivery of our disruptive, advanced Superconductor technology, potentially a key part of Europe’s transition to a low carbon future.”

The project aims to advance the performance of SuperNode’s Subsea Superconducting Cable System design which will lead to the construction of a set of test facilities for the system. The test facilities will enable testing of SuperNode’s cable system at its operational temperature of almost -200C and its durability against the forces that it will have to withstand during its construction and 30+ years of operation on the seabed.

Superconducting cables have been operating for several years onshore in places like Essen in Germany and Shingal in Seoul with a larger installation coming online in Munich in the next few years. However, existing onshore superconducting cable systems are not fit for purpose for the offshore environment, nor for the amounts of electrical power required to support a renewable grid onshore. To deal with marine conditions and larger flows, accessing the best renewables, SuperNode is developing a new system.

This project aims to improve these superconducting systems by testing physical prototypes to determine their suitability for subsea operation. This will be achieved through a range of numerical modelling and physical testing activities.

Michael O’Shea, UCC Research Fellow, said:

“This collaboration with SuperNode on their subsea superconducting disruptive technology has the potential to revolutionize how we plan for offshore renewable energy grid integration across Europe. It is an exciting opportunity to showcase MaREI’s excellence in delivery of ground-breaking marine renewable energy research.”

The expected benefits of the SuperNode Connection System are:

  1. Zero energy losses in transmission due to superconductivity;
  2. Scalability of the overall Connection System to exploit windy zones fully over time with less onshore development;
  3. Facilitates the streamlined, efficient system for the generation, collection and transferring of offshore renewable power to the grid;
  4. Smaller footprint, lightweight, cheaper offshore platform for the Collector Station, one tenth the size of current platforms;
  5. 50% capital costs of transmission compared to today’s solution, resulting in a net 20% reduction in the levelized cost of electricity for offshore wind.

This project will feed into SuperNode’s technology development roadmap and other projects with global partners in 2021 as they develop the 2GW+ Connection System, a novel technology solution to accelerate the grid infrastructure needed for the energy transition. To decarbonise globally by 2050, it is estimated that up to 2 million giga watt kilometres (GW.km) of new connections will be needed. For comparison, the Celtic Interconnector, which will use HVDC tech to connect Ireland to France, is less than 500 GW.km. Superconducting cables may be the only way to connect enough renewables fast enough.

The estimated annual European market for this aspect of SuperNode’s cable system is c. €2.5 billion. Based on the estimated number of jobs per billion Euro of manufacturing exports according to figures in Manufacturing 20201, this equates to an estimate of c. 13,000 potential jobs across Ireland and Europe.

 

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF

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