Superconducting magnetic energy storage

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Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage (SMES) systems store energy in the magnetic field created by the flow of direct current in a superconducting coil which has been cryogenically cooled to a temperature below its superconducting critical temperature.

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%.[1]

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[citation needed].


Advantages over other energy storage methods

There are several reasons for using superconducting magnetic energy storage instead of other energy storage methods. The most important advantage 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.

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