A typical SMES system includes three parts: superconducting coil, power conditioning system and cryogenically cooled refrigerator. Once the superconducting coil is charged, the current will not decay and the magnetic energy can be stored indefinitely.
The stored energy can be released back to the network by discharging the coil. The power conditioning system uses an inverter/rectifier to transform alternating current (AC) power to direct current or convert DC back to AC power. The inverter/rectifier accounts for about 2-3% energy loss in each direction. SMES loses the least amount of electricity in the energy storage process compared to other methods of storing energy. SMES systems are highly efficient; the round-trip efficiency is greater than 95%.
Due to the energy requirements of refrigeration and the high cost of superconducting wire, SMES is currently used for short duration energy storage. Therefore, SMES is most commonly devoted to improving power quality. If SMES were to be used for utilities it would be a diurnal storage device, charged from baseload power at night and meeting peak loads during the day.
There are several reasons for using superconducting magnetic energy storage instead of other energy storage methods. The most important advantages of SMES is that the time delay during charge and discharge is quite short. Power is available almost instantaneously and very high power output can be provided for a brief period of time. Other energy storage methods, such as pumped hydro or compressed air have a substantial time delay associated with the energy conversion of stored mechanical energy back into electricity. Thus if a customer's demand is immediate, SMES is a viable option. Another advantage is that the loss of power is less than other storage methods because electric currents encounter almost no resistance. Additionally the main parts in a SMES are motionless, which results in high reliability.
There are several small SMES units available for commercial use and several larger test bed projects. Several 1 MW units are used for power quality control in installations around the world, especially to provide power quality at manufacturing plants requiring ultra-clean power, such as microchip fabrication facilities.
These facilities have also been used to provide grid stability in distribution systems. SMES is also used in utility applications. In northern Wisconsin, a string of distributed SMES units was deployed to enhance stability of a transmission loop. The transmission line is subject to large, sudden load changes due to the operation of a paper mill, with the potential for uncontrolled fluctuations and voltage collapse. Developers of such devices include American Superconductor.
The Engineering Test Model is a large SMES with a capacity of approximately 20 MW·h, capable of providing 400 MW of power for 100 seconds or 10 MW of power for 2 hours.
The magnetic energy stored by a coil carrying a current is given by one half of the inductance of the coil times the square of the current.
Now let’s consider a cylindrical coil with conductors of a rectangular cross section. The mean radius of coil is R. a and b are width and depth of the conductor. f is called form function which is different for different shapes of coil. ξ (xi) and δ (delta) are two parameters to characterize the dimensions of the coil. We can therefore write the magnetic energy stored in such a cylindrical coil as shown below. This energy is a function of coil dimensions, number of turns and carrying current.
Besides the properties of the wire, the configuration of the coil itself is an important issue from a mechanical engineering aspect. There are three factors which affect the design and the shape of the coil. They are inferior strain tolerance, thermal contraction upon cooling and lorentz forces in a charged coil. Among them, the strain tolerance is crucial not because of any electrical effect, but because it determines how much structural material is needed to keep the SMES from breaking. For small SMES systems, the optimistic value of 0.3% strain tolerance is selected. Toroidal geometry can help to lessen the external magnetic forces and therefore reduces the size of mechanical support needed. Also, due to the low external magnetic field, toroidal SMES can be located near a utility or customer load.
For small SMES, solenoids are usually used because they are easy to coil and no pre-compression is needed. In toroidal SMES, the coil is always under compression by the outer hoops and two disks, one of which is on the top and the other is on the bottom to avoid breakage. Currently, there is little need for toroidal geometry for small SMES, but as the size increases, mechanical forces become more important and the toroidal coil is needed.
The older large SMES concepts usually featured a low aspect ratio solenoid approximately 100 m in diameter buried in earth. At the low extreme of size is the concept of micro-SMES solenoids, for energy storage range near 1 MJ.
Under steady state conditions and in the superconducting state, the coil resistance is negligible. However, the refrigerator necessary to keep the superconductor cool requires electric power and this refrigeration energy must be considered when evaluating the efficiency of SMES as an energy storage device.
Although the high-temperature superconductor (HTSC) has higher critical temperature, flux lattice melting takes place in moderate magnetic fields around a temperature lower than this critical temperature. The heat loads that must be removed by the cooling system include conduction through the support system, radiation from warmer to colder surfaces, AC losses in the conductor(during charge and discharge), and losses from the cold–to-warm power leads that connect the cold coil to the power conditioning system. Conduction and radiation losses are minimized by proper design of thermal surfaces. Lead losses can be minimized by good design of the leads. AC losses depend on the design of the conductor, the duty cycle of the device and the power rating.
The refrigeration requirements for HTSC and low-temperature superconductor (LTSC) toroidal coils for the baseline temperatures of 77 K, 20 K and 4.2 K, increases in that order. The refrigeration requirements here is defined as electrical power to operate the refrigeration system. As the stored energy increases by a factor of 100, refrigeration cost only goes up by a factor of 20. Also, the savings in refrigeration for an HTSC system is larger (by 60% to 70%) than for an LTSC systems.
To gain some insight consider a breakdown by major components of both HTSC and LTSC coils corresponding to three typical stored energy levels, 2, 20 and 200 MW·h. The conductor cost dominates the three costs for all HTSC cases and is particularly important at small sizes. The principal reason lies in the comparative current density of LTSC and HTSC materials. The critical current (Jc) of HTSC wire is lower than LTSC wire generally in the operating magnetic field, about 5 to 10 teslas (T). Assume the wire costs are the same by weight. Because HTSC wire has lower (Jc) value than LTSC wire, it will take much more wire to create the same inductance. Therefore, the cost of wire is much higher than LTSC wire. Also, as the SMES size goes up from 2 to 20 to 200 MWh, the LTSC conductor cost also goes up about a factor of 10 at each step. The HTSC conductor cost rises a little slower but is still by far the costliest item.
The structure costs of either HTSC or LTSC go up uniformly (a factor of 10) with each step from 2 to 20 to 200 MW·h. But HTSC structure cost is higher because the strain tolerance of the HTSC (ceramics cannot carry much tensile load) is less than LTSC, such as Nb3Ti or Nb3Sn, which demands more structure materials. Thus, in the very large cases, the HTSC cost can not be offset by simply reducing the coil size at a higher magnetic field.
It is worth noting here that the refrigerator cost in all cases is so small that there is very little percentage savings associated with reduced refrigeration demands at high temperature. This means that if a HTSC, BSCCO for instance, works better at a low temperature, say 20K, it will certainly be operated there. For very small SMES, the reduced refrigerator cost will have a more significant positive impact.
Clearly, the volume of superconducting coils increases with the stored energy. Also, we can see that the LTSC torus maximum diameter is always smaller for a HTSC magnet than LTSC due to higher magnetic field operation. In the case of solenoid coils, the height or length is also smaller for HTSC coils, but still much higher than in a toroidal geometry (due to low external magnetic field).
An increase in peak magnetic field yields a reduction in both volume (higher energy density) and cost (reduced conductor length). Smaller volume means higher energy density and cost is reduced due to the decrease of the conductor length. There is an optimum value of the peak magnetic field, about 7 T in this case. If the field is increased past the optimum, further volume reductions are possible with minimal increase in cost. The limit to which the field can be increased is usually not economic but physical and it relates to the impossibility of bringing the inner legs of the toroid any closer together and still leave room for the bucking cylinder.
The superconductor material is a key issue for SMES. Superconductor development efforts focus on increasing Jc and strain range and on reducing the wire manufacturing cost
The energy content of current SMES systems is usually quite small. Methods to increase the energy stored in SMES often resort to large-scale storage units. As with other superconducting applications, cryogenics are a necessity. A robust mechanical structure is usually required to contain the very large Lorentz forces generated by and on the magnet coils. The dominant cost for SMES is the superconductor, followed by the cooling system and the rest of the mechanical structure.