HVDC: Celebrating 25 years and more

Twenty-five years ago, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission seemed ahead of its time. However, as policymakers, customers and others debate New England’s energy future, a 960-mile, 450 kilovolt HVDC transmission system continues to generate as much as 2,000 MW of clean, carbon-free electricity from Canada into central Massachusetts.

Credit: efesan

HVDC is an efficient technology for transmitting large amounts of electricity over long distances because it minimizes power losses.  It is particularly effective in point-to-point delivery applications, such as bringing large amounts of clean energy from one region to another.

National Grid is the majority owner of the U.S. portion of this HVDC system, designed by ABB, operating on the behalf of some 35 other companies.  When it was placed in service in 1990, the Canada-New England HVDC system was the first of its kind in the world, and remains the largest HVDC system in the eastern United States.

“When this system was built, it was way ahead of its time, delivering a tremendous amount of zero-carbon electricity to our region long before clean energy was on most peoples’ minds,” said Rudy Wynter, president and COO of National Grid’s FERC-regulated businesses.  “As we look to secure New England’s long-term energy future, we see HVDC transmission as an enabler to unlock and deliver significant additional amounts of affordable, clean energy supply. Increasing our clean energy supply will help mitigate climate change, diversify our regional energy portfolio and meet state clean energy requirements.”

National Grid and ABB celebrated the system’s 25th anniversary at Sandy Pond Converter Station in central Mass. — the southern terminus of the HVDC system.

“This HVDC system has delivered clean, affordable, safe, reliable power to New England electricity customers for two-and-a-half decades,” said Wynter. “As we proudly celebrate its silver anniversary, we look forward to developing other HVDC projects that will bring significant amounts of affordable, carbon-free electricity to New England to help diversify and clean our energy supply for years to come.”

The Sandy Pond HVDC station opened in 1990 and as the world’s first (and still the only) multi-terminal bipole HVDC system — where three stations are interconnected and operate under a common master control system.

A new MACH control system upgrade at Sandy Pond, as announced by ABB in 2013, will be commissioned by National Grid in June 2016. Key features include better monitoring and diagnostics, faster protection and control, minimal losses, improved cyber security and reliable long-distance transmission.

National Grid has significant experience with HVDC development in the U.S. and Europe.  In addition to the Canada-New England HVDC system, National Grid is also a major investor in Clean Line Energy, which is developing several HVDC transmission projects that will bring wind power from the Midwest to population centers across the nation’s midsection.

National Grid has also joined forces with Anbaric Transmission to form the Green Line Infrastructure Alliance, which proposes to build long-haul HVDC transmission systems to deliver more than 1400 MW of wind energy, firmed up by hydropower, to New England.  The Alliance will initially develop the Vermont and Maine Green Lines, which will carry significant amounts of wind power and hydroelectricity from New York, Canada and Maine.

In addition to having major operations in the U.S., National Grid owns and operates the electricity transmission system in England and Wales.  That system is linked to France and the Netherlands by HVDC interconnectors the company jointly developed, owns and operates.  National Grid is also developing proposals for a number of additional HVDC projects that would interconnect with other European countries.

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