Superconducting Generators, an “Industrial Revolution” in Energy

The benefits of Superconductivity are numerous. The technology is well-understood and has already brought profound improvements to many aspects of our society in areas such as medicine (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) and research (Super-colliders / Particle Physics Analysis). Electrical machines based on Superconducting technology will have a profound impact on the size, cost and efficiency of how electricity is generated and used.

How do Superconductor-based Systems compare?

The “Superconducting Generator Cost Comparison” chart shown on the right compares the cost of superconducting direct-drive generators with conventional technology generators. The chart shows that:

  • At low power levels conventional technology provides a better cost equation. This is mainly due to the fact that the cost of the superconducting cable is higher than the cost of the copper conductor in a conventional machine. Also, the cost of cooling a superconducting system to cryogenic temperatures is higher than the cost of cooling a conventional generator.
  • However, at higher power levels the superconducting system quickly becomes more cost-effective since the additional power per unit of weight increase is much more favorable. Based on current pricing for superconducting cable and cooling systems the break-even point is in the 4-6 MWatt range.
  • Over the next few years both superconductor manufacturing technology and cryogenic cooling technology will continue to evolve with an inevitable reduction in cost occurring as demand widens. As a result, for the same power levels, the cost of superconducting power generation will reduce.
  • Conversely, the break-even point for cost of superconducting versus conventional will move to lower power levels. At levels of 2 MWatt and below the entire on-shore wind-turbine market becomes competitive for superconducting generators.
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Current and Future SC Generator Cost Comparison