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December 02, 2013

Move Over Alternating Current, Here Comes High Voltage Direct Current

Even with more energy-efficient processors and computer components and a push toward energy effectiveness overall, it still is no surprise that energy use is on the rise. Power runs the world, and our reliance on technology only ensures that we will continue to need more electrical juice.

This can pose problems for the world’s electrical grids, especially in power-hungry China, which is why researchers and utilities are starting to look at alternate methods of serving power. One method that is gaining traction is high voltage direct current.

Since the beginning of the concept of the electrical grid, power stations and electrical grids have largely used alternating current (AC) transmission systems. But driven by increasing electricity demand, transmission system congestion and overall grid instability, use of high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission is growing.

To make HVDC work, however, voltage-source converters (VSCs) are needed. So along with HVDC growth, there has been a corresponding explosion in VSC sales. A new report by Navigant Research predicts that revenue from HVDC converters will reach $56.6 billion between 2013 and 2020.

During this period, roughly 333 gigawatts (GW) of new HVDC transmission capacity will be added, according to the report.

As a point of comparison, the entire United States is expected to use roughly 800 GW of power in 2013.

One of the big early adopters of HVDC transmission capacity is China, not surprisingly. China has about 200 GW of new HVDC transmission capacity planned for build-out over the next 8 years.

Most of this power will come from energy and hydroelectric generation produced by distant inland locations, and HVDC will help transport the power to big cities along the eastern and southern coast of the Middle Kingdom.

“While AC transmission still leads the industry overall, VSCs have removed doubts concerning the limited capability of classic HVDC transmission,” noted Kristoffer Torvik, senior research analyst with Navigant Research.

He added: “HVDC allows interconnection of regional systems that operate asynchronously, which mitigates many instability issues that otherwise would cause outages in AC transmission.”

If HVDC works well for China, expect to see other countries follow suit. 

Edited by Cassandra Tucker

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