The automation vendor ABB has filled a longtime electricity technology gap and paved the way for the integration of solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources into large-scale power grids.
The company, according to a press release on its website, has designed the first circuit breaker for high-voltage direct current -- HVDC, or just DC for short -- which allows for the interruption of power flows equivalent to the output of a large power station within five milliseconds. If you're wondering how fast that is, imagine something 30 times faster than the blink of an eye, the company said.
ABB says the development of its Hybrid HVCD breaker solves a 100-year-old problem: the development of DC transmission grids to transport power over long distances. Such grids would have an advantage over AC transmission grids, which tend to lose lots of power when they must cover long distances. DC, on the other hand, is more reliable and can be deployed underground or underwater, providing alternatives to over-ground transmission cables, where new lines are difficult to install.
All this means using DC transmission lines can allow for connections between large wind farms and solar power grids from different places (such as different countries in Europe) to be plugged into the traditional power grid. These lines can also improve grid reliability and enhance alternating current (AC) networks, according to ABB.
"In terms of significance, this breaker is a 'game changer,' " Magnus Callavik, technology manager for ABB's grid systems business, wrote in a blog post on his company's website. "It removes a significant stumbling block in the development of HVDC transmission grids where planning can start now."
These grids will enable "interconnection and load balancing between HVDC power superhighways integrating renewables and transporting bulk power across long distances with minimal losses," he wrote. "DC grids will enable sharing of resources like lines and converter stations that provides reliability and redundancy in a power network in an economically viable manner with minimal losses."
What this means in layperson's terms is that the new breaker will allow for the uninterrupted flow of power across all these different lines, even if one of them fails.
The new breaker was years in the making for ABB, according to the company, which invests $1 billion a year in research. Now the company is seeking utility partners to pilot the use of the technology.
Advancements in automation appear to be the way forward for making renewable energy sources, not only a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional power sources, but also to create hybrid grids that can support different energy sources seamlessly.
We reported this fall on another advancement in automating renewable energy sources: a robotic solar panel system designed by the Silicon Valley startup Qbotix that uses an intelligent monorail system to tilt panels toward the sun.