ABB, a power and automation technology company, recently announced a breakthrough in the ability to interrupt direct current (DC). It solved a 100-year-old electrical engineering puzzle that paves the way for a more efficient, reliable electric supply system.

After years of research, the company developed the world’s first circuit breaker for high-voltage direct current (HVDC). It combines very fast mechanics with power electronics and will be capable of interrupting power flows equivalent to the output of a large power station within five milliseconds, 30 times faster than the blink of a human eye.

The breakthrough removes a barrier to the development of DC transmission grids, which will enable the efficient integration and exchange of renewable energy. DC grids also will improve grid reliability and enhance the capability of existing alternating current (AC) networks. Pilot projects with utilities employing the new technology are currently under discussion.

HVDC technology is needed to facilitate the long-distance transfer of power from hydropower plants, the integration of offshore wind power, the development of solar projects, and the interconnection of different power networks. Overlay DC grids will be able to interconnect countries and continents, balance loads and reinforce the existing AC transmission networks.

Deployment of HVDC has led to an increasing number of point-to-point connections in different parts of the world. The next logical step is to connect the lines and optimize the network. Working on the construction of multiterminal systems and the latest DC breaker innovation is the next major step in the evolution of HVDC grids.

In conjunction with the new HVDC breaker development, ABB established a HVDC grid simulation center that is developing other solutions for future DC overlay operations.

With more than 70 HVDC projects, ABB accounts for approximately half the global installed base, which represents a capacity of more than 60,000 megawatts