Switzerland-based ABB today announced that it has developed the world’s first circuit breaker for high voltage direct current (HVDC), solving what it says has been “a 100-year-old electrical engineering puzzle and paving the way for a more efficient and reliable electricity supply system.” The breakthrough holds promise not just for renewables development but also for all types of generation that nations and regions wish to transmit over long distances, including under large bodies of water.

The HVDC circuit breaker combines very fast mechanics with power electronics, and will be capable of “interrupting” power flows equivalent to the output of a large power station within 5 milliseconds, the company says.

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. DC grids will also improve grid reliability and enhance the capability of existing AC networks, the company says. ABB is in discussions with power utilities to identify pilot projects for the new development.

“ABB has written a new chapter in the history of electrical engineering,” said Joe Hogan, CEO of ABB. “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.”

Several countries are increasingly relying on HVDC connections for both conventional and renewable power transmission, including the U.S.,  Chile,  China, and Turkey.

As a previous POWER story noted, China in particular is investing heavily in HVDC and ultrahigh voltage DC as a way to economically connect generation and consumption regions because “The floor price of UHV transmission is . . . lower than the cost of transporting coal the same distance.”

The Hybrid HVDC breaker development has been a flagship research project for ABB, which invests over $1 billion annually in research and development activities. The company says the breadth of its portfolio and unique combination of in-house manufacturing capability for power semiconductors, converters and high-voltage cables (key components of HVDC systems) were distinct advantages in the new development.

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. ABB pioneered HVDC nearly 60 years ago. With more than 70 HVDC projects, ABB accounts for around half the global installed base, representing an installed capacity of more than 60,000 MW.

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 optimize the network. ABB is already working on the construction of multi-terminal systems, and the latest DC breaker innovation 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.

Addition details and multimedia material are available on the ABB website.

Sources: POWERnews, ABB

—Dr. Gail Reitenbach, Managing Editor (@POWERmagazine)