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The long-awaited marriage of superconductivity with electric power has undergone a lengthy engagement to say the least. Whether those nuptials will indeed ever take plate is a question we here dare answer, recognizing full well the pitfalls entailed, Almost immediately after its 1911 discovery, superconductivity was popularly touted as the key to the lossless delivery of electricity ... at least until the type I nature of these early materials was appreciated ... a cycle of excitement and disillusionment that unfortunately has typified the field throughout its history. With the emergence and exploitation of Type II superconductors in the middle decades of the century, tremendous technical progress was made toward power application embodiments, resulting in operating prototypes of transmission cables and rotating machinery by the early 1980s, nonetheless, these achievements did not mature into commercial power products, primarily because of economic and social factors that had evolved by that time ... successful conservation efforts had lowered expected electricity load growth such that, ironically, the incremental efficiencies offered by superconductivity were no longer required at the cost involved ... an important lesson in that the successful deployment of a technology often rests on factors unforeseen and outside its internal development. The years from 1986 to the present have witnessed the discovery of the copper oxide perovskite high temperature superconductors and their coming-of-age in practical wire form. These events, plus a renewed and growing world-wide demand for electric energy, give hope that the final vows will actually take place during the first quarter of the coming century.
Date of Publication: June 1997