Mar/Apr preview: HVDC breakthrough heralds a new era for renewables

Gail Rajgor

Power technology group ABB says it has made a breakthrough in the ability to interrupt direct current (DC), solving a 100-year oldelectrical engineering puzzle, and paving the way for a more reliable electricity system.

This article excerpt is taken from the forthcoming issue of Renewable Energy Focus magazine (March/April issue). To register to receive a digital copy click here.

It took years of research, ABB says, but what it hails as the world’s first circuit breaker for high voltage direct current (HVDC) is now available. It combines very fast mechanics with power electronics, and is capable of ‘interrupting’ power flows equivalent to the output of a large power station within 5milliseconds - that is thirty times faster than the blink of a human eye, the firm points out.

“The breakthrough removes a 100-year-old barrier to the development of DC transmission grids, which will enable the efficient integration and exchange of renewable energy,” the company says. “DC grids will also improve grid reliability and enhance the capability of existing AC (alternating current) networks.”

Joe Hogan, CEO of ABB says the firm – which has been in discussions with power utilities to identify the first projects for the new development (see box within article, Mar/Apr 2013 issue) – has written a new chapter in the history of electrical engineering. “This historical breakthrough will make it possible to build the grid of the future. Overlay DC grids will be able to interconnect countries and continents, balance loads and reinforce the existing AC transmission networks.”

Renewable energy lifeline

HVDC technology is needed to facilitate the long distance transfer of power from hydropower plants, the integration of offshore wind power, the development of visionary solar projects, and the interconnection of different power networks, explains the company. Hence, the Hybrid HVDC breaker development has been a flagship research project for ABB (which invests over $1bn annually in R&D activities).

The breadth of ABB’s portfolio and combination of in-house manufacturing capability for power semiconductors, converters and high voltage cables (key components of HVDC systems) were, it says, “distinct advantages” in the new development. The company pioneered HVDC nearly 60 years ago and continues to be a technology driver. Indeed, with over 70 HVDC projects, ABB accounts for around half the global installed base, representing an installed capacity of more than 60GW.

Deployment of HVDC has led to an increasing number of point-to-point connections in different parts of the world. The logical next step is to connect the lines and optimise the network. So ABB is already working on the construction of multi-terminal systems and the latest DC breaker innovation, it says, is a major step in the evolution of HVDC grids. In parallel to the new hybrid breaker development, ABB has an established HVDC grid simulation center developing solutions for future DC overlay grid operations.

Magnus Callavik, technology manager for ABB’s grid systems business, says the new breaker is a ‘game changer’...

For the rest of the article in print format, subscribe to Renewable Energy Focus magazine.

Want to read our Explainer on HVDC? Click here.

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