Superconductors: Now Double the Performance at Half the Price

Until now, American Superconductor (NAS: AMSC) has never seen its namesake products, superconducting wires, widely adopted in the marketplace. They're expensive and difficult to install but a new generation of cables at a lower price point could change the trajectory of sales.

The second generation of Amperium superconductor wire is able to carry 200 amps, which will allow for more power to be carried in each wire and a smaller magnetic field. In locations where power lines need to be expanded and there is little physical space to do so this will be an ideal product. The wires can be installed underground with less right-of-way in transmission corridors.

But these high-temperature superconductors aren't as easy to operate as traditional transmission lines. Even the higher temperature requires the cables to be cooled with liquid nitrogen, which requires a cooling stations ever 7-8 miles. There will be applications where this is efficient but we shouldn't expect superconductors to be running through our neighborhoods any time soon.

This isn't the only high capacity transmission technology out there either. 3M's (NYS: MMM) Aluminum Conductor Composite Reinforced, or ACCR, is a conductor technology that can be installed on existing transmission lines as opposed to the new build out required for Amperium cables. When upgrading infrastructure, utilities have options.

Still, this could be a positive movement as American Superconductor tries to expand in the renewable energy market. It hasn't seen superconductor sales take off, but the grid business is growing and this is a key part of the portfolio. The company is competing with more established renewable energy solution providers like Power-One (NAS: PWER) , who offers a suite of inverters and converters to the renewable energy market. American Superconductor has its eye on some of these same markets and if superconductors are adopted more widely it could help the company get the foot in the door.

As a relative newcomer it's still a tough road. Doubling performance and lowering price is a great way to get a foot in the door though in a growing energy business.

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Fool contributor Travis Hoium has the following options: long JAN 2013 $10 calls on American Superconductor. The Motley Fool owns shares of Power-One. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend 3M Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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