Successful power transmission is all about control

2014-11-21 - The MACH control and protection system is continually developed using the latest technology. A look at this system, following recognition of one of its architects with the prestigious Polhem Prize.

Controlling an HVDC (high-voltage direct current) transmission system is a complex matter. It is essential that operators are able to control the huge amounts of power in these systems in order to prevent faults, so ABB designed and built the reliable MACH (Modular Advanced Control for HVDC) control and protection system.

The MACH solution is designed specifically for converters in power applications, and is under continuous development using the very best and latest technology. It is the world's most commonly used control system for HVDC and FACTS (flexible alternating current transmission systems) installations, with more than 1,100 systems in operation around the world.

The story behind the development of the MACH control system is about the pioneering spirit of innovation and teamwork. And Hans Björklund, who has been one of the architects in the development of MACH control systems for more than 40 years was recently awarded the prestigious Polhem Prize by the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers in recognition of his contribution.

The internationally recognized Polhem medal is Sweden's oldest technology award, given to recipients who produce a high-level technical innovation, or an ingenious solution to a technical problem. The innovation must in addition be competitive, available on the open market, and environmentally friendly. First awarded in 1878, the Polhem medal has often been referred to as the Nobel Prize for engineers.

Smart and efficient energy systems

Björklund won the prize for his significant contributions to the development of smart and efficient energy systems, which are essential components of sustainable development. A powerful, flexible and reliable control and protection system is crucial for the safe and efficient operation of HVDC transmission systems.

In fact, the control system is the backbone of HVDC controllability, which is a major reason for choosing direct current (DC) over alternating current (AC) transmission in the first place. The MACH control system provides unequalled calculation capacity, enabling a high degree of integration and handling in all control and protection functions. Moreover, the system provides advanced fault registration and remote control functions. MACH control is a key component in developing smarter electricity networks, which are vital to the goal of integrating more renewable energy sources into existing grids.

The MACH system is designed to operate 24/7 for 30 years or more, providing reliable control and protection throughout the lifetime of an HVDC installation. To fulfill current and future control requirements, Björklund and his team developed a fully computerized system using state-of-the-art computers, micro-controllers and digital signal processors connected by high-performance industrial standard buses and fiber optic communication links. Extensive use of computers and micro-controllers have made it possible to include very powerful internal supervision, which eliminates periodic maintenance of the control equipment.

Reliability and longevity

To achieve high reliability and longevity, quality is built into every detail of the system from the beginning of the engineering phase. And the ability to upgrade is another MACH advantage. This means even older HVDC systems can enjoy the benefits of great controllability. Moreover, a new control system minimizes the number of control components, eliminating thousands of aging individual parts with the potential to fail. In addition to prolonging the lifetime of an existing transmission link, HVDC control upgrades can be completed rapidly, and with minimal transmission disruptions.

ABB has built up significant experience upgrading HVDC links around the world, as many original installations are aging. Since 1990, ABB has been awarded 22 major HVDC modernization projects, 16 of which are control and protection system upgrades.

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