The evolution of HVDC

Transmitting bulk power over long distances

HVDC (high voltage direct current) is an ABB innovation for transmitting bulk power over long distances and interconnecting incompatible power grids. ABB built the first commercial HVDC installation in Sweden in 1954. There are now over 120 HVDC systems in operation in the world, half of which have been supplied by ABB.

The key problem in the early evolution of HVDC was how to develop reliable and economic valves that would convert high voltage alternating current into high voltage direct current and vice-versa. Although ABB had successfully developed static converters and mercury-arc valves for voltages up to about 1000 volts in the late 1920s, the difficulties in developing valves for higher voltages were immense. It was not until the mid-1940s that ABB made significant breakthroughs.

The key problem in the early evolution of HVDC was how to develop reliable and economic valves that would convert high voltage alternating current into high voltage direct current and vice-versa. Although ABB had successfully developed static converters and mercury-arc valves for voltages up to about 1000 volts in the late 1920s, the difficulties in developing valves for higher voltages were immense. It was not until the mid-1940s that ABB made significant breakthroughs.

The key problem in the early evolution of HVDC was how to develop reliable and economic valves that would convert high voltage alternating current into high voltage direct current and vice-versa. Although ABB had successfully developed static converters and mercury-arc valves for voltages up to about 1000 volts in the late 1920s, the difficulties in developing valves for higher voltages were immense. It was not until the mid-1940s that ABB made significant breakthroughs.

This transformer converted the first HVDC transmission in Gotland.
The first HVDC installation

These breakthroughs gave the Swedish State Power Board (now Vattenfall) the confidence to order the first HVDC transmission between the island of Gotland and the Swedish mainland, a distance of 96 kilometers.

The Gotland transmission, with a rating of 20 MW, 200 A and 100 kV, came into service in 1954 and was the first commercial HVDC system in the world. So successful was the system concept developed by ABB that it has remained basically unchanged to this day.



HVDC goes global

HVDC had an enormous and immediate impact on how power transmission was conceived. The British and French power authorities, who were planning a power transmission system across the English Channel, abandoned a proposal to use AC cables and chose ABB’s HVDC alternative instead.

Other authorities followed suit. Within a decade, ABB had supplied HVDC transmission systems linking Sweden and Denmark, the South and North Islands of New Zealand, Italy and Sardinia, and Oregon and Los Angeles.

The thyristor takes over

ABB’s extensive activities in semiconductors enabled it to develop the first high-voltage thyristor valve in 1967. When the new valves replaced the mercury-arc valves in the Gotland transmission converter stations, a phenomenal 50 percent increase in transmission capacity was achieved.

Valve container, Garabi, Argentina
Twenty years later ABB took thyristor technology a step further. HVDC 2000, a new generation of thyristor-based converter stations, makes substantial reductions in the size and complexity of converter stations and in engineering and delivery times. Performance, stability and reliability are all significantly increased. The 2200 MW Garabi-Itá interconnection between Argentina and Brazil became the first transmission to utilize the new technology in 1999.

Multi-terminal transmission

Large-scale transmission between more than two converter stations was made possible by ABB. The first multi-terminal HVDC system was built by ABB for the Quebec-New England Phase II HVDC project. The power is generated at La Grande II hydropower station, converted into DC at the Radisson converter station, and transmitted over the multi-terminal system to load centers in Montreal and Boston. ABB is the only company to have developed a multi-terminal HVDC system.

A completely new power transmission technology

The latest groundbreaking innovation in power transmission is ABB’s HVDC Light®, a unique technology that extends the economical power range of HVDC transmission down to a few tens of megawatts. It is particularly suitable for small-scale generation and transmission applications. In its upper range, the technology now reaches 1,200 MW and +/-320 kV.

Following the first commercial installation in Sweden in 1999, HVDC Light has been chosen for a number of underground transmission projects up to 350 MW in the United States, Australia, Europe and Africa.

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    What is HVDC?

    • In a HVDC system, electricity is taken from an AC power network, converted to DC in a converter station and transmitted to the receiving point by a transmission line or cable. It is then converted back to AC in another converter station and injected into the receiving AC network. HVDC enables the power flow to be controlled rapidly and accurately, and improves the performance, efficiency and economy of the connected AC networks.

    The creation of HVDC

    • ABB has been designing and building HVDC systems for 50 years. In that time we have pioneered breakthrough technologies and supplied more than half the world’s HVDC projects – a unique achievement that gives ABB an unrivaled base of experience.

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