Skip to Content

Supergrids

A high-power circuit breaker could finally make DC power grids practical.
April 23, 2013
At ABB’s lab in Sweden, equipment such as corona shields—polished disks linked to form spheres—are used to test a high-voltage DC circuit breaker.At ABB’s lab in Sweden, equipment such as corona shields—polished disks linked to form spheres—are used to test a high-voltage DC circuit breaker.
At ABB’s lab in Sweden, equipment such as corona shields—polished disks linked to form spheres—are used to test a high-voltage DC circuit breaker.ABB

High-voltage DC power lines can efficiently transport electricity over thousands of kilometers and for long distances underwater, outperforming the AC lines that dominate transmission grids now. But for a century, AC prevailed because high-voltage DC could be used only for point-to-point transmission, not to form the integrated grid networks needed for a stable electricity system.

The Swiss conglomerate ABB has solved the main technical hurdle to such grids. It has developed a practical high-voltage DC circuit breaker that disconnects parts of the grid that have a problem, allowing the rest to keep working.

DC grids would be more efficient at connecting far-flung sources of renewable energy, allowing utilities to average out local variations in wind and solar power while bringing power to areas without much sunshine or wind. Solar power from the Sahara could power cloudy Germany, and wind power from all over Europe could keep the lights on at night. The result: more reliable renewable energy that can better compete with fossil fuels.

A simulation center develops controls for DC grids.
ABB
ABB workers at a DC-to-AC conversion station.
ABB

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project
Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.

Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research
Muhammad bin Salman funds anti-aging research

Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging

The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.

Yann LeCun
Yann LeCun

Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI

One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.

images created by Google Imagen
images created by Google Imagen

The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images

Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.