Breakthrough enables incorporation of high-voltage power lines into grids, mitigates problems of fluctuating energy production, loss.
Proponents of solar and wind power who are tired of defending the merits of their preferred renewable energy technologies may soon receive help in the form of a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) circuit-breaker, which promises to ease certain limitations on power produced using these fluctuating sources and to enable utilities to conserve electricity while transmitting over long distances. With the creation of its new breaker, the ABB Group (ABB) has solved a problem that, to date, has prohibited utilities from incorporating DC power into grids, and in turn presents the potential to bring “green” energy a step closer to the mainstream.
Founded in 1833, the ABB Group is a Switzerland-based global leader in power and automation-based technologies that maintains operations in approximately 100 countries. “ABB pioneered HVDC transmission nearly 60 years ago and accounts for half the world’s HVDC installed base,” writes the group’s Technology Manager for grid systems, Magnus Callavik. “It is befitting that the company that commissioned the world’s first 800 kilovolt UHVDC systems … now writes the next chapter in the history of this technology and marks an important milestone in the legacy of electrical engineering.”
Long-Awaited Development Allows Utilities to Better Manage Renewable Resources
ABB’s breakthrough has implications not only for DC transmission overall, but also for green energy in particular. One of the headaches utilities face when they try to integrate solar and wind into their regional grids is the problem of fluctuating power. Both of these technologies are subject to at-times unpredictable output variability, which can include spikes and their associated potential to damage the broader network. In addition, solar and wind farms require more space to produce a given quantity of electricity than do more conventional systems like those that utilize coal or nuclear, and thus, they are usually situated some distance from the markets they serve, making HVDC the ideal transmission medium. Until recently, however, the scant and costly switching technologies available prevented the efficient integration of DC lines into grids, which would better facilitate load balancing, energy conservation and networking with existing AC systems. ABB’s recent breakthrough provides a reliable and less expensive breaker solution that will increase utilities’ range and potentially pave the way for broader adoption of green energy technologies worldwide.
As communities and industries look for sustainable solutions to help them lessen their ecological footprints while they otherwise maintain business as usual, companies like ABB push technological boundaries to come up with innovations that solve these problems and bring the world’s energy infrastructure into the 21st Century.
by Ryan Robert Hallett
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