FACTS is seen as key to expanding the integration of wind power, solar, and other generation sources to the grid under anticipated stricter power quality/reliability regulations. American Superconductor (AMSC) hopes its SuperVAR dynamic synchronous condenser—effectively a superconducting motor designed to provide reactive power (VARs)—will succeed in carving a niche in some portion of the FACTS market (Volume 20, Number 06 of Superconductor Week).
If development of the SuperVAR machine continues as hoped, it may offer advantages over competing VAR solutions. Mike Ingram, Senior Manager of Transmission Technologies at the Tennessee Valley Authority, believes FACTS devices and alternate technologies such as STATCOM and SVC are the two solutions that will compete most closely with the AMSC’s SuperVAR machine.
David Eromon, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electronics, Computer, and Information Technology at North Carolina A&T State University, believes a number of factors will impact the demand for VAR devices, including trends in use of distributed energy, including renewable energy generation. Eromon also believes that energy quality and reliability standards which may emerge as a result of the U.S. Energy Policy Act could potentially help spur this growth.
Regardless of their usefulness, success in selling VAR solutions will depend to some extent on educating the customer on their usefulness. “There is a lack of awareness with engineers at utilities, due in some part to the dynamic nature of our utility grid these days,” commented Kevin Dennis, Manager for North America, Advanced Power Electronics at ABB. “Wind farms are well aware of the need for VARs. But among industrial users and distribution utilities, the amount of knowledge out there varies greatly. Some people running plants still do not know what VAR solutions are, or where they should go.”
In one respect, AMSC is well-positioned to tackle the VAR market’s need for education: As one of the world’s leading developers of high temperature superconductors for power applications, AMSC is already acting in the capacity of one of the industry’s most vocal educators for advanced power solutions and their underlying technologies.