Research Breakthrough Eases Integration of Clean Energy Into Power Grid

ABB (NYSE: ABB) has developed a technology that could make it much easier to integrate renewable energy into the power grid and to build "the grid of the future."

ABB’s breakthrough is billed as the world’s first high-voltage direct current (HVDC) circuit breaker, which will make it possible to carry renewable energy hundreds of miles from offshore wind farms, for example, to urban centers. It makes the visionary Desertec project – which would carry solar energy from Africa to Europe – more likely, as well as the European SuperGrid.

The heavy-duty circuit breaker facilitates interconnection of AC and DC transmission networks.

HVDC is seen as critical for facilitating long-distance transfer of electricity from hydropower plants, offshore wind farms and remote solar installations into population centers – because the lines can transmit power at high voltages more reliably and safely with much less voltage loss than alternating current (AC) infrastructure.

Until now, rollout of the 60-year-old technology has been limited because most of the existing grid infrastructure relies on AC networks. HVDC lines are significantly more efficient, but it’s been difficult to switch to AC – the heavy duty circuit breaker makes that possible because it can handle large voltages.

ABB compares the challenge to stopping a truck hurtling down a motorway at top speed.

“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,“ says Joe Hogan, CEO of ABB.

ABB is already involved in more than 70 HVDC projects supporting more then 60,000 megawatts of generation capacity.

The company is in negotiations with power utilities to identify pilot projects that can be used to test the new circuit breaker.

This video shows how the new circuit breaker works:

For more about ABB’s role in connecting clean energy to the grid:

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