I’m blogging this week from an event I’m always thrilled to attend – the annual ARPA-e Energy Innovation Summit in Washington. I’m joined here by a few of my colleagues from GE Global Research to showcase a few of the projects we’re partnering with ARPA-e on in the high-voltage direct current (HVDC) space, and I’d also like to take the occasion to share with you a major milestone that we’ve recently hit.
More than 100 years ago, AC triumphed over DC as the technology of choice to transmit power. But, as you may have read below in my previous blog entry, we’re now embarking on a project that explores the benefits of a power grid with a DC backbone. Currently none exist, but as the demand for energy grows, it’s DC – not AC – which provides the unique ability to bring a greater number of renewable resources online while transmitting power reliably over long distances.
With the support of ARPA-e, we’re working on a project to develop a DC fault-resilient modular DC/DC transformer that would enable renewable power systems, like a wind farm, to connect directly to an HVDC grid without the need for a DC breaker. This is significant. Breakers are expensive and wind energy isn’t always generated close to where consumers live.
In the last few weeks, the GE team has reached a major milestone in our work. In the lab, we’ve been able to demonstrate a short-circuit scenario in which our converter technology can disconnect from a mock HVDC grid in just 50 microseconds following DC fault. We have successfully validated the breakdown test of a module at a voltage in excess of 250kV DC. Our modular DC/DC transformer, which will comprise hundreds of such modules, is expected to be up to 40% lighter and up to 5 times smaller than present HVDC converter technology for multi-terminal DC power systems. Take a look at this short video to see for yourself the breakdown test of the module.
We’re excited about this technology. Imagine a world where wind power generated in rural North Dakota or offshore in the Atlantic, could be transmitted hundreds, or even thousands of miles away to customers in Boston or San Francisco, without a hiccup. That’s what a HVDC power grid could enable. It’s early; we won’t see one of these power grids spring up tomorrow, but the future is bright and GE is helping blaze the trail.