Circuit Breaker Breakthrough to Enable DC Power Grid

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HVDC valves convert electricity from AC to DC, and vice versa. The power conversion is done with thousands of semiconductors arranged in precise formations, the goal being to lose as little power as possible during the conversion process. (Photo Source: ABB)

ABB has announced a breakthrough in the ability to interrupt direct current, solving a 100-year-old electrical engineering puzzle and paving the way for a more efficient and reliable electricity supply system.

After years of research, ABB has developed the world’s first circuit breaker for high-voltage direct current (HVDC). It 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 five milliseconds – that is 30 times faster than the blink of a human eye.

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

The Hybrid HVDC breaker development has been a flagship research project for ABB, which invests over $1 billion annually in R&D activities. The company’s strengths in power semiconductors, converters and high-voltage cables were distinct advantages in the new development.

HVDC technology is needed to facilitate long-distance transfer of power from hydropower plants, integration of offshore wind power, development of large, efficient solar projects, and interconnection of different power networks.
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 working on construction of multi-terminal systems and the 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.

More about the Hybrid HVDC breaker and DC grid technology.

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