Superconductors are materials that have “zero” electrical resistance at cryogenic temperatures. The first superconductor, Mercury , was discovered in 1911 by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes (or his grad student, I kid, I joke). It was found that when cooled to 4.2K the electrical resistance dropped to zero.
Superconductors also expel magnetic fields when cooled. Think of a material at room temperature that is completely penetrated by the magnetic field. When it is cooled, the magnetic field is pushed out and has to flow around the material. This is known as the Meissner Effect. Superconductors can also be categorized as low temperature (LTS) or high-temperature (HTS).
Superconductors have several applications which can assist in adopting renewable energy systems (RES). Superconductors are able to carry 150 times the current of copper wires of the same size. Using the current grid, superconducting fault current limiters can be utilized to reduce the amount of current forced into the grid and avoid grid damage that would induce mass power outages. High voltages can be transmitted using superconducting cables than standard copper wires. Superconducting
energy storage systems (SMES) can be charged using energy from a renewable energy system to be utilized at a specified time. This allows grid regulation or transmission by creating a portable SMES. Superconducting magnetic levitation vehicles (MagLeVs) utilize magnetic suspension supplied by superconductors. These are just a few examples, more can be found at http://www.cryogenicsociety.org/resources/cryo_central/superconductivity/
Superconductors have various failure modes, including quench. LTS have faster quench propagation which allows faster detection. HTS is much slower increasing the possibility for failure or destruction. A proposed method to mitigate quenching involves the usage of non-traditional insulating techniques. Traditional insulation materials are thermally insulating dielectrics. The non-traditional methods involve using thermally conducting dielectrics or no insulation to increase propagation to foster faster detection or self-protection. Using finite element analysis, I modeled various superconducting coil configurations to determine their effect on quench propagation. Specifically, I investigated the thermal and mechanical response. The thermal response was evaluated during a quench. The mechanical response was evaluated during cool-down and during a quench. Superconductors are a promising alternative to use in the adoption of RES but stability must be secured. My work can be here and full dissertation can be found here.