The future began in Gotland in 1950.
It is here, between this island 90 kilometers off the coast of Sweden and the mainland, that the first direct current connection for the transmission of electricity was made. Though limited in size and power, the project has had enormous resonance. In fact, the prototype developed by ABB showed the world that transmitting energy in HVDC is possible. The technology is there and it works.
Since then it took almost fifty years of research and studies far from the spotlight to refine the technology and materials to the point that HVDC is not only feasible and even more reliable, but also economically viable.
The break-even point was reached in the late 1990s. Since then, experimental projects and significant investments continued and the technology made substantial leaps forward thanks to the increasing number of concrete projects and the competitive market that was being created. There are about 80 projects using HVDC that are expected to be completed by 2020, a true boom with important environmental repercussions.
The Future will definitely include HVDC.
A cutting-edge technology becomes the norm
There are many solid reasons to believe in and invest in the development of HVDC.
Today the world is still crisscrossed by a dense network in alternating current though. While the recent development of direct current has been rapid, it remains a niche technology adopted above all to connect isolated areas or different countries. If direct current is going to become the standard in the future there must be a gradual standardization of the technologies it uses.
It is in fact the designation of internationally recognized regulatory parameters that open the way for a technology to jump from being in the avant-garde to being widely embraced.
This is exactly what happened in the past with alternating current. The goal of getting direct current accepted in the mainstream would be facilitated by the establishment of independent and authoritative laboratories that could test new components developed by those working in the industry. To date the only recognized independent organization that aims to define key norms for HVDC is the CIGRE (Conféderation Internationale Grand Réseaux Electriques), though its findings are non-binding pre-standard recommendations.
Yet it is absolutely fundamental, for utilities that must make huge investments to build out infrastructural projects, to be able to obtain the certification of an impartial institution that outlines the real capabilities of products billed as meeting the specific needs of a project. This is precisely the goal CESI has set for itself – to be a partner that utilities can turn to as they choose which technologies, systems and models are best for them as they build out infrastructure projects.
This is a daunting task for laboratories considering the breadth of factors that must be confronted during testing.
Each project is a new challenge. From time to time, for example, the various elements – above all the cables – are subjected to different environmental and climatic conditions. In general, the bar for the level of voltage seems to always be rising – today it is from ± 600 kV / ± 800 kV. In underwater projects, maximum attention must be paid to the pressure and mechanical stress, while at the same time the cables’ response to the different temperatures they are expected to be subjected to must be tested.
Technological innovation is without a doubt the most important weapon at disposal to address the challenges in the energy sector. The transition from when research is carried out to the time of its application in the specific environmental context is among the most delicate moments in this sector where a mistake in the field can lead to significant economic losses and unacceptable network outages.
In a situation always in rapid evolution, the key factor is precisely the correct definition of the methodology and specifications used in the tests. This is a role that can only be played by accredited and independent laboratories, which in time accumulate a sufficient amount of experience regarding very different products in specific test conditions. CESI, which has more than 50 years of experience testing high voltage parts, has what it takes to be the market leader in HVDC testing.
Thus, CESI, with its German unit FGH Engineering & Test GmbH, brought this experience to Mannheim (Germany) creating one of the most important independent labs in the world to test HVDC systems, components and cables.
The new CESI HVDC laboratory in Mannheim, closed to Frankfurt, will make it possible to carry out tests in three bays equipped with one-of-a-kind control and supervisory systems.
The decision to place this laboratory in Mannheim did not happen by chance. In fact, Baden-Württemberg’s location in the centre of Europe is strategic for transport and services, but the region is also one of the areas identified to have one of the three important HVDC corridors that Germany is creating for the transfer of bulk renewable energy from the wind farms of Northern Europe to the central and southern regions.