ABB, the European electrical equipment giant that seems to be in the news every day of the week, has won a $20 million contract to refurbish a high voltage DC line in Vermont.
The line will modernize the Highgate converter station and allow the U.S. to import power from Quebec. Over long distances, HVDC lines lose less power and are more efficient than AC transmission equipment. They also typically cost less to build. ABB helped pioneer the field 50 years ago and demand has begun to accelerate. China is building HVDC lines to bring wind power from western China to the coast, while HVDC will join three of the U.S. grids at the Tres Amigas Super Station (which has nothing to do the TBS SuperStation on your cable dial).
This is the 15th HVDC upgrade project ABB has signed since 1990. DC is also making a comeback in other ways. Facebook and SAP have built data centers that run on higher voltage DC. (Running the data centers on DC cuts down on the number of power conversions and thus reduces consumption.) The Emerge Alliance is showing how solar panels, which produce DC power, can run LED lights, which run on DC. General Electric wants to bring DC to large equipment, like machines at mines that otherwise would consume diesel fuel.
--Rob Ferber, the CEO at battery startup ElectronVault (more on this interesting company soon), told us during a break at The Networked Grid that the Fukushima disaster and earthquake in Japan have cut into the ability of Japan to produce oxides for lithium-ion batteries. As a result, prices on batteries could rise. Similarly, we've heard that TV news outlets could face a Japan problem. The factories that make mini DV tapes were destroyed. Most TV stations haven't upgraded to flash memory yet, so this could force them to recycle tape or upgrade cameras.
--The USDA and DOE gave out $48 million in biofuel grants today. Some of the awards include $5.4 million for the University of Florida for optimizing sorghum and $7 million to Domtar Paper to come up with ways to convert paper waste into oil or sugar. Almost $7 million will go to the University of Kentucky for on-farm biochemical and biofuel production.
--Thanks to all for attending The Networked Grid this week. We had a number of interesting sessions. Cree and Gridco outlined the future of solid state transformers, while Tendril CEO Adrian Tuck revealed that that company will launch its first commercial-scale home networking projects later this year.
In the hallways, much of the chatter swirled around Landis + Gyr. Will they hold an IPO? Get acquired by GE? Landis + Gyr execs kept totally mum, but others downplayed the idea of a GE takeover, so who knows. Distribution automation is clearly top of mind for many. Utilities are still struggling with consumer relations. As a result, we might see a migration of telco execs or retail execs to help them build expertise in 'customer touch.'
In deregulated power markets, low prices help, but experience has begun to show that power retailers have to do more. Loyalty rewards, better customer service, individualized email pitches: all of these will help retailers woo and keep customers.
Oh, and everybody seems to be in love with OPower. They are the Tesla Motors of the smart grid.
--Finally, Intel formally committed to bringing out chips built with transistors with three active sides. Factories will be upgraded this year and in 2012. The remarkable thing about this is that Intel unfurled the Tri-Gate transistor in 2002 and predicted back then that chips based around it would come out a few years after 2010. Nearly a decade has passed and Intel has kept on track. Not many companies can do that. It goes a long way to explain why the Big I steamrolls over its competition in manufacturing.