Hyperloop technology, initially proposed by Elon Musk in 2013 as an innovative means for intermediate-range or intercity travel, is now being developed by several companies. Hyperloop systems could be used for both passenger and freight transportation with the goals of time-saving, convenience, quality of service and, in some cases, increased energy efficiency. Because the system is powered by electricity, there is also potential for integrating a hyperloop system’s energy storage technologies with variable energy resources.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has conducted an analysis on the potential effects of hyperloop systems on the electric grid, as well as on transportation energy demand. The analysis of potential grid and energy efficiency impacts is based on conceptual data, as drawn from open sources or made available by developers, and on transportation energy use data.
DOE relied, additionally, on studies of hyperloop systems by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Volpe Transportation Center, and US Department of Transportation. Modeling of grid impacts was carried out by DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, utilizing electrical grid representations in three areas of the United States.
DOE’s analysis assumed that a typical travel distance for a hyperloop system would lie within an “intercity” range, that is, between 100 to 1,000 miles. Data indicate that energy use in the intercity market represents about 30% of total transportation energy use in the United States.
Findings of the report include:
Effects on the electric grid. In terms of effects on the grid, DOE found that energy and power demands of the system would be significant and would require mitigation strategies. The electrical energy required to support one moderately sized hyperloop system over a 24-hour period might be in the range of 500 to 600 MWh/day for passenger travel; and up to 1,900 MWh/day for heavier freight.
For hyperloop systems connected directly to the grid, the fluctuating power dynamics could present serious challenges for grid integration. DOE modeling found that the power factor, magnitude, short duration, frequency, and number of power pulses per day, both from the grid (for pod launch and acceleration) and back to the grid (during periods of regenerative braking), would induce unusual stresses throughout the grid.
These stresses, if sustained over time, would adversely impact electrical generating and transmission equipment, power quality, and long-term system maintenance and reliability, with implications for regional grid stability.
The report describes technologies and alternative designs that could help mitigate these grid-related issues imposed by the hyperloop system.
Effects on transportation energy demand. The analysis also found that transporting passengers via hyperloop could result in 20% energy savings for passenger transport compared to other modes such as air or personal vehicle. These savings were calculated using the average fleet efficiency projected to 2030. Such energy savings would be less if compared to today’s “best in class” vehicles, or to a future fleet with higher vehicle utilization (i.e., passengers/vehicle) factors.
Hyperloop transport of freight could be less energy-efficient per ton-mile shipped than all other modes of freight transport, except for air. The study estimated that hyperloop freight transport would be 8 times less efficient than transport by water and rail, and at least 3 times less efficient than transport by truck.
The report found that the extent to which hyperloop systems may affect overall transportation energy use, under a range of technology penetration scenarios, would be be relatively small on a national scale.