Huntersville cable plant plugs into renewable energy
Sep 19, 2012 (The Charlotte Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
For all the energy industry's technical chops, nothing beats gravity in making high-voltage cable -- which explains the 430-foot tower that's a looming new landmark in Huntersville.
The Swiss company ABB officially opened its $90 million plant Wednesday. The cable it will make is designed to be buried underground, suitable for transmitting power from wind and solar farms or upgrading aging transmission lines.
"It is one very effective and reliable way to connect renewables to the grid, especially when wind farms are distant from population centers," said Enrique Santacana, ABB's Cary-based president and CEO for North America.
ABB's cables are up to 6 inches in diameter and can be used to transmit electricity as alternating current, the form that comes from a household outlet, or the direct current that comes from a wind turbine or photovoltaic cell.
In the manufacturing process, the tower will use gravity to help center aluminum or copper conductor wire in three layers of polyethylene insulation extruded at the top. The drop to the bottom of the tower simultaneously cools the insulator.
ABB has years of experience making undersea and underground cable, which is in high demand in China and elsewhere in Asia. It's been made in Sweden, but the Huntersville plant will now make the company's underground cable. The undersea product will come out of Sweden.
Burying cable underground requires less space, sometimes fitting into existing rights-of-way, and may be easier to win permit approval for than above-ground transmission corridors, Santacana said.
Even without a federal energy policy to guide investment, "there is no question the renewables industry is going to have a growing contribution to our sources of energy," Santacana said. "Even in the midst of the recession, the digital economy does not stop."
Zurich-based ABB, which has 145,000 employees worldwide, makes a range of power and productivity equipment, from generators to robotics.
Smart grid is the term used to describe making more efficient use of electricity by deploying digital controls and sensors.
It employs close to 2,000 people in eight North Carolina locations, including Kings Mountain and Shelby near Charlotte. ABB's power products/power systems division is based at N.C. State University's Centennial Campus in Raleigh, where it recently opened a smart-grid testing lab and demonstration center.
N.C. 'leader in the industry'
Charlotte's "energy cluster" of companies is focused largely on generation, while the Raleigh region concentrates on smart-grid technology. North Carolina "is really becoming the acknowledged leader in the industry in the United States," Santacana said.
The company says it chose Huntersville for the region's technically-trained workforce, access to suppliers, transportation options and quality of life. The state awarded $5 million in incentives, and Mecklenburg County and Huntersville added another $6 million combined.
ABB worked with Central Piedmont Community College to develop training programs and sent 19 lead operators to a 100-day training program in Sweden. It will run three production shifts of 20 to 25 workers each, and also install the cable it makes, said Huntersville general manager Prentis Trickett.
The firm is already making strides in finding a local supplier for the massive steel drums on which the cable is delivered, Trickett said, to reduce shipping costs.
Henderson: 704-358-5051 Twitter: @bhender
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