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Ugly overhead wires, your days are numbered

American Superconductor to fulfill order for more than 3 million meters of wire to be used in underground direct-current superconductor cables laid in Korea and the U.S.

A win today for those bothered by unsightly overhead wires snaking through otherwise pleasant views of cities, towns, and countrysides around the world.

Today, American Semiconductor announced it's filling its biggest order to date for its high-temperature superconductor (HTS) wire, which is used in underground direct-current superconductor cables.

Superconductor cable manufacturer LS Cable of Korea has ordered over 3 million meters of the HTS wire. The wire, which will be manufactured in Massachusetts, will be used in LS Cable direct-current superconductor cables to be laid across Korea in conjunction with a project with the Korean utility KEPCO, and also for the Tres Amigas SuperStation project in the U.S.

American Superconductor's Amperium wire American Superconductor

The Tres Amigas project, if completed, would be one of the most important domestic projects to be implemented in years as its effect would be felt for decades to come.

As part of the push from the Obama administration and Department of Energy to remake the disparate U.S. electric grid into an interconnected series of smart grids, the country's three main transmission arteries will be interconnected. But keep in mind that, as of the writing of this article, the Tres Amigas project is not actually a government-funded project.

Investors for the short-term development of what has been estimated to be a $600 million project in the long term include American Superconductor, which invested $1.75 million in 2009, and AltEnergy. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved Tres Amigas to sell transmission services at negotiated rates, and FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff has signaled his agency will ultimately support the project, but it has not yet approved the interconnection request. While federal stimulus funding seems likely, as of this article no government loans, grants, or tax credits have been approved to fund the project's completion.

But if funded and completed, the Tres Amigas project would enable the currently independently operating Eastern Interconnection, Western Interconnection, and Texas Interconnection grids to redistribute electricity as needed throughout the U.S., as well as parts of Canada and Mexico, which could reduce brownouts. It will also allow them to better manage electricity generated from intermittent energy sources like solar and wind.

While the invention of smart grids is what makes much of this possible, it's the direct-current superconductor cables that will make it feasible.

Direct-current superconductor cables only lose 3 percent of the electricity they transmit, as opposed to the 10 percent that is lost over conventional overhead transmission cables, according to the Department of Energy's most recent study on the topic (PDF). Because of this greater efficiency, electricity can be transported over greater distances which allows more flexibility as to where electricity can be sourced from.

American Superconductor calls its HTS wire Amperium, because it has the "ability to conduct more than 100 times the electrical current, or 'amperage' of a copper wire," according to the company.

Updated 1 p.m. PDT to include the following correction: While it has some approval from the FERC, Tres Amigas is not, as of the writing of this story, a government-funded program. It has been developed with corporate investment, and has yet to secure long-term funding.