DOE Spotlights DC Innovation

As the nation’s mix of energy sources continues to evolve, the need for distribution innovation also increases.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced awards for projects that find new ways to harness the benefits of medium-voltage direct current (DC) technology to increase reliability, safety and efficiency on the grid.

The 12 projects, which received a combined award of $35 million, include eight from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) Building Reliable Electronics to Achieve Kilovolt Effective Ratings Safely (BREAKERS) program, plus four of the latest OPEN+ cohort, Kilovolt Devices.

ARPA-E is a DOE program that advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment. The OPEN+ program offers awards to technologies from across the entire scope of ARPA-E’s energy mission. Projects are grouped into cohorts around a specific subject area.

The eight BREAKERS projects that received the recently announced award will work to develop new DC devices to better manage power by eliminating electrical faults, improving efficiency and reaction times, and potentially enabling greater proliferation of energy storage and renewable resources. The four Kilovolt Devices OPEN+ projects will focus on a variety of challenges facing power electronics in the medium-voltage space, with a particular eye toward grid security and reliability.

Examples include a silicon carbide-based, DC circuit breaker design being developed by Eaton Corp. It boosts efficiency and can scale up or down medium-voltage application requirements. Another project, developed at Ohio State University, will create gallium nitride (GaN) semiconductor materials suitable for high voltage (15–20 kilovolts) power control and conversion.

Medium-voltage DC circuit breakers have the potential to introduce significant improvements to the nation’s electrical system, for which most power is transmitted over alternating current.

About the Author

Rick Laezman

Freelance Writer

Rick Laezman is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer who has been covering renewable power for more than 10 years. He may be reached at richardlaezman@msn.com.

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