Aluminium Empowering the Green Transmission Initiative

Aluminium has been an integral part of the power industry since the late 1800’s. From being just used as a structural component in wiring, today, aluminium is driving the power industry in transmitting electricity across the globe.

Globally, sustainable development has gained importance more than ever before. Large corporate across industries are consciously building their business models keeping sustainability at the core to have a better impact on their people, products and processes.

The situation is no different in the power industry with global advocacy promoting ‘sustainable energy’.  This form of energy caters to the current requirement without compromising access for future generations. ‘Green/ Sustainable energy’ can be achieved by focussing on the entire value chain of power generation until its consumption – right from the source, transmission, distribution, storage, point of use etc.

Evolution & Emergence of aluminium in the power industry

The power industry has turned to aluminium in its journey to switch to greener ways of transmitting power and currently utilises 13% of the total volume of aluminium produced globally.

Aluminium based electric wiring was first used in utilities in the 1900’s and its application grew exponentially post World War II owing to its cost, lightweight, durability and its recyclable properties. It is interesting to note that when the first electrical transmission network was built, aluminium was considered a precious metal. This shows that the metal has evolved from being just a structural component to the driver of sustainable solutions. 

The green transmission revolution

According to the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDG) report 2018, goal 7 states access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. [1] This goal has encouraged countries to adopt sustainable ways of manufacturing and transmission of power.

To be able to achieve a low carbon footprint, India has taken an important stride in this direction. The Government of India has encouraged the adoption and installation of Green Transmission corridors in the country. Green Transmission, which refers to the transmission and distribution of power using sustainable resources, is an initiative by the power ministries in India, looking for an alternative green material that could be used in power grids.

Transmission and Distribution: Aluminium emerged as the chosen metal given its sustainable properties and is now driving the green transmission wave in India across the newly laid power grids.

The consumption of aluminium in India has risen by 1.2% during FY 19 according to CARE ratings and the power industry accounts for 48% of the total consumption. Initiatives proposed by the Government of India like Rural Electrification and a focus on building renewable energy projects under the National Electricity Policy have further accelerated the growth of the metal in India.

Advantages of aluminium

Among the other base metals, aluminium has an undeniable advantage owing to its various properties like:

Lightweight- Aluminium being one of the lightest metals, it is one of the most preferred metals in power transmission and distribution as it reduces the weight on the grids while simultaneously increasing the distance between them. This allows for the easier installation of power grids thereby reducing costs and power losses by 25-40%.

High Electrical Conductivity – The metal is a good conductor of electricity and hence allows for more transmission of power using the same infrastructure. Though the conductivity of aluminium is much lower than copper, its lighter weight and low cost scores above copper. Since the conductivity to weight ratio of aluminium is much better than copper, it is widely used for overhead transmission lines.    The metal has an added virtue of being corrosion-resistant and hence is an optimal choice for power industry.

  • Recyclability – Aluminium is often referred to as the green metal due to its recyclability which is infinite. It is one of the few metals which can be recycled as many times as possible without losing its properties. One tonne of recycled aluminium saves 14000 units of power that can be generated by 11 tonnes of coal needed to produce one tonne of primary metal.    The Green Transmission revolution therefore   focuses on this aspect of aluminium as it reduces the harmful impact of manufacturing the metal from scratch. Not only does it save energy and resources, but also reduces the cost of production.
  • The global consumption of aluminium is set to grow in the coming years and the installation of new power grids from scratch will have a detrimental impact on the environment. However, aluminium requires minimal energy to recycle and it will, therefore, negate the chances of leaving behind high levels of carbon footprint.
  • Durability – Aluminium, unlike other metals is highly durable and hence it is a key component in the power industry. Aluminium cables are made of pure aluminium in 1ххх series and is known to have a life span of up to 40 years. Unlike other metals like copper, aluminium conductors have more than four decades of reliable installations, making them the metal of choice.

Key applications of aluminium in transmission and distribution in the power industry

The range of applications of aluminium in transmission and distribution of power is vast given its properties. Below are some of the forms of aluminium that are extensively used for transmission of power.

  • Pure aluminium – Aluminium in 1xxx series which is the most common form of aluminium found in the cables and conductors.   It enhances energy efficiency by reducing power losses significantly.  However, for thinner gauge electric wires in homes, copper is still used.
  • Aluminium Extrusions – Extruded aluminium has made its way into various end-use applications in the transmission of power like switch gears, control panels, bus bars, bus ways, heat sinks, lugs and transformers. Given its flexibility to be extruded into any shape, aluminium in this form enhances the structural strength of these applications.

The Way Forward

The growth of aluminium is only set to surge in the future given the planned investments in the power sector. According to CARE Ratings report, aluminium is going to see a growth of CAGR 8% by 2025, especially in this industry given the number of sustainable initiatives lined up in the coming future.

| Article published on 04/12/2019 by Moulin

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