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Germany's Merkel previews ABB's HVDC breaker amid 'Energiewende'

2014-04-09 - On her visit to Germany's Hannover Messe 2014, Chancellor Angela Merkel got a glimpse of ABB's new hybrid HVDC (high-voltage direct current) circuit breaker, a critical technology in enabling the transition to renewable energy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (second from left), Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte (second from right) and
Johanna Wanka, the German minister for education and research (third from right) are shown speaking with ABB Chief Executive Officer Ulrich Spiesshofer (left) and ABB Germany Chief Executive Peter Terwiesch (third from left) at ABB's stand at the Hannover Messe 2014.

"Let's get started with building the new power grid!" Merkel told ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer, who was briefing her on how ABB's high-speed HVDC breaker, shown publicly for the first time at the fair, will enablepower grids that outpace existing networks' efficiency while preventing grid collapse.

TheHVDC breakerwas just one of many ABB innovations at the Hannover Messe 2014...

..., one of the world's largest technology shows. Others included synchronous reluctance motor technology that pushes energy efficiency to new heights and a new version of ABB's Process Control System 800xA, for industries like mining or oil and gas.

ABB's hybrid HVDC circuit breaker will be important as Merkel and other European leaders link renewable installations such as North Sea wind farms or remote solar sites with urban and industrial areas hungry for green electricity - all with fewer energy losses and lower financial and environmental costs.

There's added incentive for Merkel, too: Her country wants to wean itself from nuclear energy by 2022 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, largely through increased reliance on wind, solar and hydroelectric power.

ABB's high-speed HVDC breaker, dubbed by theMassachusettsInstitute of Technologyamong the 10 technology breakthroughs of 2013, will contribute by allowing HVDC to be used not just for point-to-point transmission, but also to erect the networks that form a stable electricity system's backbone.

A century-old engineering puzzle

For a century, such HVDC grids have been an elusive dream, since the circuit breakers necessary for helping clear line faults quickly and efficiently proved a puzzle for engineers. Some were too slow, while others sacrificed too much energy.

ABB's hybrid solution - combining mechanical and power electronics switching - solves that challenge: Interrupting power flows of hundreds or thousands of megawatts, all faster than the wink of an eye and with minimal energy losses to make sure the transmission system keeps delivering electricity where it's needed.

"When we have a fault somewhere in the grid in Germany or Holland, we can interrupt the entire HVDC network at that spot within just 2 milliseconds," Spiesshofer told Merkel, of the new breaker. "That's a real revolution."

He said ABB stands "completely" behind the goals of the Energiewende, a phrase being adopted beyond Germany as shorthand for the shift to solar, wind and hydropower.

"This task is complex, but it's certain that innovative technologies will contribute to the success of the Energiewende," Spiesshofer said. "ABB is researching and developing the most important components."

More productivity, better dependability, higher efficiency

ABB's offerings at the Hannover Messe 2014 underscore the company's efforts to help customers boost productivity, dependability and energy efficiency - whether in industry, the electricity grid or electrical transportation.

More and more intelligent solutions are being integrated into critical infrastructure, said Peter Terwiesch, CEO for ABB Germany and head of the company's Central European operations who accompanied Merkel and Spiesshofer during Monday's tour.

An example: ABB is demonstrating new synchronous reluctance motor technology that's lifting energy efficiency dramatically. The highest category is now International Efficiency Class 4, or IE4, but ABB's latest drive concept - called SynRM2 - slashes energy losses another 20 percent, attaining what eventually will be IE5. Additionally, the technology is no longer reliant on magnets made of rare earth metals, something that's both economically and ecologically sustainable.

And ABB's convention offerings also include the latest generation of the Process Control System 800xA, designed to boost efficiency and reduce costs for oil and gas producers, pulp and paper makers and in minerals and mining. Also important: This isn't just for new projects, but it's been specially developed to support upgrades of older systems running on unsupported platforms such as Microsoft XP.

"The advance of digitalization and its ever-closer and more-useful integration in products and production installations is opening completely new horizons for the production systems of tomorrow," Terwiesch said.

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