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Power Boost

Americans are notorious electricity hogs, but a new power line design could help satisfy their appetite. Many power lines-usually steel-reinforced aluminum cable-are 30 to 70 years old and were never meant to handle the loads they’re carrying. Torrance, CA, engineering firm W. Brandt Goldsworthy has developed a stronger, lighter alternative that carries 40 to 200 percent more electricity-and can transmit high-speed digital data to boot. The new cable consists of a reinforced plastic core with a hollow space at the center for optical fiber; the core is wrapped with aluminum alloy wires. Unlike steel, the nonconducting plastic draws no electricity from the aluminum conductor; this prevents the novel cable from heating up and sagging and allows it to carry more juice. The optical fiber could help carriers bring broadband Internet connections into neighborhoods without digging up roads to lay new cables. The California Energy Commission will field test the cables this summer, most likely in Southern California Edison’s grid.

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