Uno Lamm and the dawn of HVDC

2014-07-09 - August Uno Lamm (May 22, 1904 – June 1, 1989) was a Swedish electrical engineer and inventor who is often referred to as the father of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) power transmission.

He graduated from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in 1927, and a short time later joined ASEA, the Swedish electrical conglomerate and one of the founding companies of ABB.

In 1929 he became manager of a project to develop a high-voltage mercury arc valve, an essential step on the road to developing technology that could handle DC transmissions at high voltages. He and his team spent 20 years developing a valve that would have a rating suitable for HVDC transmission.

Alternating current (AC) electrical power systems dominated the industry since shortly after its inception, but to meet rising demand, power was increasingly being generated far from where most consumers lived and worked. This necessitated long distance transmission with the challenge of significant losses along the way. DC transmission at high voltage was seen as a solution to mitigate these challenges.

One of the main hurdles was the lack of a suitable valve technology that could reliably and economically convert power generated as AC into high-voltage DC for transmission, and then back into AC at the destination for use by consumers. This pushed Lamm and his team into completely unknown fields, where earlier technical experience was only of limited use.

They spent decades developing the solution to this problem, and by the early 1950s, the mercury arc valve was ready, paving the way for commercial HVDC transmission to become a reality.

The HVDC Gotland project when completed in 1954 became the first modern HVDC system to go into commercial operations. The project involved a 100-kV, 20-MW submarine cable that connected the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea with the power grid on the Swedish mainland 98 kilometers away.

Lamm was appointed by ASEA in 1961 to work with General Electric on the Pacific DC Intertie project, which combined long AC and HVDC transmission systems to move electrical energy from the hydroelectric generators of the Pacific Northwest to consumers in southern California. It was the largest mercury-arc valve HVDC transmission link built by ABB.

During his life Uno Lamm received many awards including the Benjamin Lamme medal in 1965 and the Howard N. Potts Medal in 1981. From 1967 to 1988 he served as an IEEE director at large, and in 1980 the IEEE created the Uno Lamm award for contributions to the field of high voltage electrical engineering. Lamm died in 1989. ABB inaugurated the Uno Lamm HVDC Center at its Ludvika campus (Sweden) in June 2013, as a fitting tribute to the man who pioneered HVDC technology which is being increasingly deployed today across the world.

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