Not all of the electricity produced by generating plants gets to its destination: estimates say the insulator system is responsible for up to 7% of the power loss that occurs during transmission. With that firmly in mind, IBM and electricity grid builder ABB are using supercomputers to study and possibly develop a more efficient, more resilient high-voltage insulator.
Reducing line loss isn't the only potential benefit of such an undertaking. More robust insulators will be better able to withstand weather-related material deterioration, meaning reductions in the number of power outages as well. While 7% may not sound like a big number, it is when you consider that estimates from a few years back say transmission line loss wastes millions of megawatt hours of power every year.
"It's like going to the market and buying a full container of milk and then arriving home to see a glassful has disappeared," said Dr. Philip Shemella of IBM Research-Zurich. "Using supercomputers we can simulate at the molecular level how the insulators are damaged by the environment and design them to be more efficient and reliable."
As Shemella put it, even a drop of water can affect the reliability of insulating materials, "particularly when it is extrapolated across the entire power grid."
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