It’s not often you can convince a group of people to sit for three days and discuss your dreams, unless you’re EPRI founder and president emeritus Chauncey Starr and your dream is the development of a continental “SuperGrid” that would deliver electricity and hydrogen in an integrated energy pipeline. And that’s just what two dozen engineers from various disciplines did Nov. 6-8 in Palo Alto, Calif.

This SuperGrid, first proposed by Starr at the November 2001 meeting of the American Nuclear Society, would use a high-capacity, superconducting power transmission cable cooled with liquid hydrogen produced by advanced nuclear plants, with some hydrogen ultimately used in fuel cell vehicles and generators.

More specifically, Starr’s SuperGrid would be a 40GW to 80GW, high-efficiency underground energy corridor for real-time, coast-to-coast transfer of electricity as well as for power electrolytic plants producing hydrogen. Liquid hydrogen would be pumped through the center of an evacuated energy pipe, both to cool the superconducting, direct-current, low- or intermediate-voltage cable, which would traverse North America in a giant loop, and to serve as an initial, interstate pipeline for the future hydrogen-electricity economy. Each of a proposed 40, 100-km long section of the cable would be joined by a 1GW to 2GW nuclear plant supplying electricity to the grid and to hydrogen plants. Power electronic converters would connect the DC SuperGrid overlay at various points to existing, high-voltage alternating current transmission substations.

Starr introduced the concept as an example of how energy producers had to begin thinking of new and more imaginative ways to provide power in the future as demands increase and levels of traditional fuels decrease. But those who gathered for the conference last month now believe the project may be possible, and possibly necessary given rising concerns for the safety of the nation’s power supplies.

“If terrorism remains a risk, all major parts of the system could be underground,” says Starr. “If a hydrogen-fueled motor would gradually replace the internal combustion engine, the reduction of U.S. dependence on oil imports might radically chance our foreign policies and commitments. Its long-term consequences might make the Continental SuperGrid a 21st Century equivalent of the Panama Canal of the first transcontinental railroad.”