Birmingham’s revolutionary HVDC technology that could defend the UK’s National Power Grid against blackouts

PURPLE MOUNTAIN International Forum on Smart Grid Protection and Operation Control was held in Nanjing, China, 17th-18th Aug 2019, which is one of the most influential annual academic activities in the field of smart grid in China. This Forum was steered by Chinese Society for Electrical Engineering and was organised by State Grid Electric Power Research Institute (NARI Group Co., Ltd) and National Key Lab for Smart Grid Protection and Operation Control.

The Forum attracted more than 600 guests from academic institutions, research institutions, universities, and electric power enterprises from 7 countries including China, the United States, Canada, Greece, Denmark, Australia, and the Netherlands to share the smart grid technologies. In the plenary session on the morning of 17th Aug, 5 prestigious leading experts in the World including Mr Dennis Woodford, Fellow of US National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of IEEE, President, The Electranix Corp, Canada, Prof Shmuel S. Oren, Fellow of US National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of IEEE, the Earl J. Isaac Professor in the Science and Analysis of Decision Making, University of California at Berkeley, Professor Joe H. Chow, Fellow of US National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of IEEE, Institute Professor, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Professor Yueshen Xue, Academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering, Honorary President of State Grid Electric Power Research Institute, Professor Chanan Singh, Fellow of US National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of IEEE, Regents Professor and Irma Runyon Chair Professor, Texas A&M University.

Mr Dennis Woodford, Fellow of US National Academy of Engineering, Fellow of IEEE, President, The Electranix Corp, Canada, a distinguished leading HVDC authority in the World, gave the 1st keynote speech entitled “The Changing Grid” where in his keynote speech, he introduced the new HVDC technology with controllable capacitors, proposed by the University of Birmingham and highlighted the advantages of the technology. The new HVDC technology is also named as ‘Flexible LCC HVDC’.  ‘Flexible LCC HVDC’ can significantly improve the reliability and control ability of the LCC (line-commuted convertor) HVDC technology.

In fact, this electrical power superhighway is already starting to happen: the UK now has high-voltage, direct-current (HVDC) transmission links with several neighbouring countries, including France, Ireland, Holland and Norway, with more in the pipeline. ‘These are either in operation already or being constructed,’ says Xiao-Ping, Professor of Electrical Power Systems and Smart Grid Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute.

LCC HVDC is a very efficient HVDC technology. However, it is very vulnerable to AC faults. The 1st paper on ‘Flexible LCC HVDC’ entitled ‘Elimination of Communication Failures of LCC (line-commuted convertor) HVDC system with Controllable Capacitors’, the article won the College’s Paper of the Month award (the second such Xiao-Ping has won the award) in 2016. Co-written with Birmingham colleagues Ying Xue and Conghuan Yang, it was published by IEEE Transactions on Power Systems in 2016. Subsequently further 4 journal papers on ‘Flexible LCC HVDC’ have been published in the IEEE Transactions. ‘These public publications have put us in a leading position in terms of significant improvements to LCC HVDC, i.e. higher reliability & flexibility, smaller footprint and lower costs,’ says Xiao-Ping.

‘The big challenge we have is that this LCC HVDC system is vulnerable to AC faults. Imagine we had a fault in the UK with the DC links. It would mean neighbouring DC links would be affected, and if that happened it could trigger a national-wide power blackout. The DC system would be shut down.”

‘Our solution using dynamic capacitor insertion is not only innovative; it ensures that the system is always operational. In other words, it would never have to be shut down.’

Existing solutions since the Birth of the 1st commercial HVDC in 1954, he explains, can only reduce the impact on the system, but not eliminate it. ‘It works in some situations, but not in others. Our approach is fundamentally different and solves the problem completely. It works whatever the situation, keeping the HVDCs operational and bringing the system back to normal very quickly, and will always avoid having to shut down the system.’

The proposed approach involves converting DC power into AC (alternating current) power, which ‘increases the effective commutation voltage and enables successful commutation even in the absence of AC commutation voltage during the fault conditions, i.e. zero impedance three-phase grounding fault’.

Xiao-Ping is quietly excited that Birmingham’s revolutionary HVDC technology could defend the UK’s National Power Grid against blackouts as unlike the existing LCC HVDC technology, the new ‘Flexible LCC HVDC’ proposed by us is very reliable, which is not vulnerable to AC faults any longer.

 

Notes for editors

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions, its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers and teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Birmingham Energy Institute is the focal point for the University and its national partners, to create change in the way we deliver, consume and think about energy. The Institute harnesses expertise from the fundamental sciences and engineering through to business and economics to deliver co-ordinated research, education and the development of global partnerships.
  • PURPLE MOUNTAIN International Forum on Smart Grid Protection and Operation Control is annual smart grid conference organised by State Grid Electric Power Research Institute (NARI Group Co., Ltd).
  • Further reading: related publications can be found on Prof Xiao-Ping Zhang’s personal website: profxiaopingzhang.org
  • Mr Dennis Woodford’s keynote the presentation can be found here) https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/5_D9842OdAWU9UxjJiXxBw

 


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