HVDC and the U.S. Power Grid

a guest post by Ken Whiteside, Director of Business Development at ONTILITY, LLC.

HVDC and the U.S. Power Grid

While high voltage AC continues to be the pervasive technology for transmission of electricity in the U.S., as it has been for the past century, a growing number of research and development teams are working on new technologies that will make electric grids more flexible and better able to accommodate variable generation from renewable sources like wind and solar.

One such technology, actually not a new idea at all, that is, according to Alstom Grid, is high voltage, direct current (HVDC).

HVDC allows power transmission between unsynchronized AC transmission systems. Since the power flow through an HVDC link can be controlled independently of the phase angle between source and load, it can stabilize a network against disturbances due to rapid changes in power. These characteristics make HVDC a good choice for connecting AC grids to renewable sources, improving stability and reliability on those networks by reducing disturbances.

The modern form of HVDC transmission uses technology developed extensively in the 1930s in Sweden and Germany. Among the longest HVDC links in the world are are the ones connecting the Xiangjiaba Dam to Shanghai, 1,287 miles, and the one from Porto Velho to the São Paulo area, where the length of the DC line is more than 1,600 miles.

In the U.S., Alstom is involved in two projects where AC and DC technologies will be integrated. The first is the Tres Amigas Super Station, which would provide a first-ever connection between the three major U.S. transmission networks, the Eastern (Southwest Power Pool), Western (Western Electricity Coordinating Council) and Texas (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) networks. Tres Amigas would make it possible for clean renewable electricity generated on the West Coast to power homes on the Eastern Seaboard. The second project is the New Jersey Energy Link, which would serve as a backbone for connecting offshore wind farms to the state’s power grids.

In the same way that traditional power company business models and rate structures are being impacted by the growth of renewable energy and distributed generation, the technologies used to support the power grid are under close scrutiny. It is important for those of us who are promoting and selling solar energy solutions to be aware of research and trends that will change the way we do business in the future.

Ken Whiteside photo Ken Whiteside has been a fan of solar energy for decades. His first hands-on experience was installing solar on off-grid houses around Telluride, Colorado in the 1990’s (summer in the San Juan Mtns. - somebody had to do it). From his home in Austin, Ken writes and works for widespread adoption of solar electricity, smart energy production and use, and sustainability.

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