Limitations of high voltage transmission

[Trade Journal]

Publication: The Journal of Electricity

San Francisco, CA, United States
vol. 6, no. 5, p. 128, col. 1-2



The important commercial question is: To what distance can power be transmitted? The relation between distance and voltage is well known. The same weight of copper can transmit with equal efficiency the same power to any distance, provided the voltage is increased directly as the distance is increased. The limiting commercial ratio between voltage and distance is easily found. If the distance be three miles per thousand volts, and the loss 16 per cent., the cost of copper is about $20 per h. p. The interest on the latter investment is about $1 per year. A distance in miles equal to three times the number of thousand volts may therefore be covered with¬out an excessive annual charge per h. p. for copper. The limits to the voltage which are practicable depend principally upon the insulator and upon the loss between wires.


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The Insulator—The two fundamental requirements are dielectric strength sufficient to prevent puncture, and a size and form which will prevent the passage of the current around the Insulator. A given insulator will be adequate for a higher voltage where the atmosphere is comparatively pure and dry, than it will be under other conditions. The rapid progress which has been made in the design and construction of insulators during the last few years will doubtless provide an insulator which will accommodate the highest voltages that can be used due to other limitations. The insulator, therefore, while remaining the critical point in a transmission system will probably not determine the limit of practicable voltages.

Loss Between Wires—The loss between bare wires at high voltages seems to determine a positive limit, beyond which the voltage cannot be increased. This loss is subject to variation due to diameter of wire, distance between wires, and wave form of the e. m. f., but the variations which may occur under favorable commercial conditions locate the point of increase of loss about 50,000 or 60,000 volts. Under favorable conditions this may be raised somewhat, but it is not probable that any material increase can be made.

Amount of Power—The amount of power to be transmitted involves some interesting commercial limits. There are certain elements in a transmission which do not vary greatly with the amount of power transmitted. Thus, the charging current to the line will be practically the same whether the wire will transmit 1,000 or 100 h. p. If the charging current happens to represent 300 h. p., it would be insignificant in one case, but for the smaller output it would require generating apparatus several times that necessary for the actual power.

It is not mechanically practicable to use wires as small as would be sufficient, in so far as conductivity is concerned, for transmitting a small power. For example, a No. 7 copper wire, which is as small as is ordinarily used, if employed in a 3-phase circuit fifty miles in length, would transmit over 1,000 k. w. at 40,000 volts with 10 per cent. loss. If only a few hundred kilowatts were to be transmitted, the cost per k. w. would be excessively high, and on the other hand a lower voltage could be used without undue loss. In some cases, indeed, where a high voltage is used for small power, as for example on a branch circuit, an iron telegraph wire would have ample conductivity. In other cases, an aluminum wire could be used to advantage, as an aluminum wire of the same conductivity as a copper wire has only about half the weight, and possesses greater mechanical strength in comparison to its weight.

It may also be noted that high-voltage transformers cannot be economically built for small output, as the insulation spaces required are so large. The cross-section of the copper is often not more than 10 or 20 per cent. of the area of the opening in the iron. The cost per k. w. increases very rapidly when the size of transformer falls under a few hundred k. w.

Cables and Conduits.—The overhead transmission line has been considered, and its limitations are the insulating strength of the insulator and the losses through the Intervening medium. In a cable or a conduit the insulation must be provided continuously, instead of at points a hundred feet apart. Rubber-covered cables are made for 10,000 and 20,000 volts, but it is quite possible that it will not be commercially practicable to make cables for much higher voltages. The effect of continued electric stresses on the insulation of the cable, which is an unknown factor may prove to be a very important one. A conduit composed of a pipe containing oil, in which the wires are separated by glass tubes has been proposed. Many mechanical difficulties arise in constructions of this kind; the cost is high, and the action of continued high voltages on solids and liquids opens a field which is little known. A suitable insulation on the wires on high-voltage lines may enable higher voltages to be used than can be used with a bare wire.

Liquid air, with its high insulating properties, and the low temperature and consequent high conductivity which it would give to a conducting wire, may enable us to use air insulation in a new way.

Difficulties and Precautions.—High voltages have been referred to in this paper with perhaps undue familiarity. Familiarity with high voltages is not one which breeds contempt. A voltage which can produce sparks several inches in length, which can be felt through several feet of air, which causes hissing sounds, which produces luminosity, and which in a confined room generates strong odors of ozone, is one which creates profound respect. Dangers and difficulties accompany it, and the highest intelligence, vigilance and excellence must be employed to avoid accident and ensure success. While ordinary types of construction do not seem to reach their limitations until some 50,000 volts is reached, and pressures of this order have been and are in regular use, nevertheless they are not to be used indiscriminately or where they can be avoided. There are difficulties enough in handling 15,000 and 20,000 volts. As the pressure is raised, the liabilities to trouble increase at an alarming rate. It is, however, a fact that these voltages have been and can be used, and also that no new or modified methods of transmission will be required before 50.000 or 60,000 volts can be employed for distances up to 150 or 200 miles.


Keywords:CD 283
Researcher notes: 
Supplemental information: 
Researcher:Elton Gish
Date completed:September 14, 2012 by: Elton Gish;