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Swiss firm in grid breakthrough with world's first tech for HVDC

ABB DC breaker to shape “grid of the future” and enable efficient integration for renewable energy

The technology for HVDC will enable efficient integration of power from renewable energy systems such as solar plants

A Swiss power firm has developed world-first high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology to enable efficient integration of renewable energy plants and build the grid of the future. Power and automation group ABB has developed the world's first circuit breaker for HVDC, which is technology needed to facilitate the long distance transfer of renewable energy, including wind, solar and hydropower plants.

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 said the technology for HVDC removes a 100-year-old barrier to the development of DC transmission grids. The company said this is a “historical breakthrough” in the ability to interrupt direct current, paving the way for a more efficient and reliable electricity supply system. DC grids will also enhance the capability of existing AC (alternating current) networks. 
Joe Hogan, CEO of ABB, said: "ABB 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."

The 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 five milliseconds. This is 30 times faster than the blink of a human eye.

The Hybrid HVDC breaker development has been a flagship research project for ABB, which invests over USD 1bn annually in R&D activities. The company said its portfolio and combination of in-house manufacturing capability for power semiconductors, converters and high voltage cables, which are key components of HVDC systems, were distinct advantages in the new development. ABB is now in discussions with power utilities to identify pilot projects for the development.   

The news from ABB marks another groundbreaking move for HDVC technology. Earlier this year, Spanish energy giant Iberdrola announced it will build the world’s longest HVDC cable across the UK. The 260-mile long subsea cable will link up Scotland, England and Wales.