Copper has the highest conductivity of the commercial metals and it has played a fundamental role in enabling the development of electrical and electronic applications.
In addition to its excellent conductivity, copper has ideal mechanical properties at low, ambient and elevated temperatures, is easily fabricated or cast to shape and can be readily machined. It has excellent strength and is resistant to oxidation and corrosion.
From high voltage transmission to microcircuits, and from gigawatt generators to computers, in every aspect of electricity generation, transmission and use, copper is the vital, energy efficient metal. In addition, there is a wide variety of less-common high conductivity copper alloys with properties tailored for various applications, such as electrical contacts, slip rings, catenaries for railways and tramways, and more.
Distributed Generation and Renewables
Distributed generation (DG) and renewable energy sources (RES) are attracting special attention. Both are seen as important in achieving two key goals: increasing the security of energy supplies by reducing the dependency on imported fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal and reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels.
The term ‘renewable energy sources’ refers to natural resources such as sunlight, wind and others that are naturally replenished. Renewable energy systems convert these natural energy sources into useful energy. ‘Distributed generation’ refers to the decentralised generation of electricity, which can in some cases include renewable energy systems. DG units are generally connected to the distribution level and have capacities ranging from a few kW to several tens of MW.
Earthing systems are vital to the safety, security and functionality of electrical installations. They provide a safe path for fault current so that over-current protection systems can function, provide a safe path for lightning strikes while containing the voltage rise to a safe value and provide an equipotential surface on which electronic equipment can function without interference.
Energy efficiency is becoming extremely important as energy resources become increasingly scarce, difficult to exploit and expensive. Building generators fuelled by renewable resources will help, but decreasing consumption is an easier and more sensible approach.
Energy efficiency improvements are usually technically simple, relatively low cost and quick and easy to implement. Often, it is simply a matter of sensible purchasing decisions, buying the unit with the lowest lifetime cost rather than the one with the lowest purchase price.
Power quality problems lead to unplanned downtime, wasted resources and higher energy costs, yet they can be easily detected in advance by measurement and monitoring, and cured by the application of the most appropriate mitigation techniques. Best of all, the effects can be avoided altogether by good design practices and by choosing the right equipment. See Power Quality and Utilisation Guide
For more on these and other issues surrounding copper's deployment in electrical applications, visit Leonardo ENERGY
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