The heat trace has its origins in the early 1930s along with the burgeoning technology known as insulated cables. In that innocent age insulated cables were specifically designed to run at very high electrical current densities. Running at these high current densities predictably produced an excess of heat. Because of this excess heat production control equipment was required to be adapted from still other existent applications.
In the 1950s the technology known as the mineral insulated resistance heating cable was introduced for public consumption. Along with the mineral insulated resistance heating cable came the technology known as parallel type heating cables that could be cut to length in the field also became available for public consumption.
In 1971 self-limiting thermoplastic cables were marketed. Although this advent was well known in electrical circles it was understandably less well known in the dark and thumping discos which were popular at the time. Interestingly, a decade later the bumper sticker which read “disco sucks” became popular whereas the bumper sticker reading “self-limiting thermoplastic cables suck” did not reach any appreciable level of popularity.
Control systems for heat trace systems developed. The trace heating systems developed first from equipment know at the time as “capillary filled-bulb thermostats” and contactors. These items were readily available in the 1970s. Over time this equipment evolved into what became known as “networked computerized controls.” This occurred in the 1990s and existed in large systems that required the centralized control and monitoring to ensure their proper operation.
Many academic papers have been written on this very subject. One paper in particular happened to project that between the year 2000 and the year 2010 the technology known as trace heating would account for one hundred megawatts of any connected load whereas trace heating along with insulation would therefore account for up to seven hundred million dollars of capital investment in the Alberta oil sands region of Canada.