Renewable Revolution Through High Voltage Direct Current Systems

Since 2012, Asia-Pacific has attracted the most investments in clean energy in the world, more than tripling cumulative solar and wind capacity. As countries across this region focus more on producing their own energy, there has been a shift away from fossil fuel production and towards clean sources. As such, renewable energy adoption has accelerated, fueled by technological advancements, lower prices for solar panels and wind turbines, favorable government policies, and a significant increase in power demand. In fact, the Asian Development Bank predicts that our region of the world will collectively increase energy demand by 67 percent between 2010 and 2035.

Currently, Japan and South Korea collectively have the second largest number of offshore wind energy projects undergoing planning and construction in the world. However, as these projects come online, the boost in energy supply will require infrastructure improvements and a more modernized, interconnected grid system, capable of integrating clean energy sources and transferring power across long distances. One solution would be a global, electrical highway that helps facilitate a continuous supply of energy and minimizes disruption from intermittent renewable resources. For example, if the wind in a normally wind-dependent city dies, this super grid would take the electricity from its neighbors and quickly fill in to ensure that there isn’t a lapse in electricity. 

In order to meet this growing supply, High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission is key to expediting clean, efficient power for our everyday electricity needs.

Today, the majority of power grids use alternating current (AC), which is less efficient at carrying energy over long distances and therefore more prone to power outages. HVDC systems address these issues by transporting electricity in direct current (DC) and converting it back to AC on delivery. This technology can move up to three times more electricity and transport bulk power across longer distances than traditional AC transmission systems, carrying energy as far as 400 miles. HVDC solutions can also support existing AC transmission systems or build new power highways.

HVDC is the ideal solution to move power over long distances, interconnect grids across country borders, and integrate intermittent sources of energy from renewables, ultimately improving the quality, stability and reliability of the grid. By bridging the divide between remote wind and solar farms and populated cities, HVDC can facilitate a rapid transition from fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas to clean, renewable energy.

This solution is being utilized all over the world. For example, GE Power’s Grid Solutions business and TenneT Offshore GmbH in Germany are working to complete the DolWin3 project, which will rely on GE’s HVDC MaxSine Voltage Source Converters (VSC). Together, this solution will allow DolWin3 to transmit and distribute 900 MW of electricity produced at the DolWin3 wind farm through 161 miles of subsea and underground cables to a converter station in Dörpen West. It will then travel through an additional 100 miles of subsea and underground cables to an additional converter, where it is converted to AC and distributed to the onshore grid. Dolwin3 will bring clean energy to over one million homes in Germany and ultimately help support “Energiewende,” Germany’s energy transition to a low-carbon, nuclear-free economy.

Solutions, such as the one GE is developing in Germany, are critical to expediting renewable energy proliferation as the world demands a faster transition to clean resources. By utilizing VSC, utilities can control real and reactive power independently and transmit real power into weak AC networks, which is also critical for renewable energy transmission.

As more renewables come online, emerging technology, such as energy storage, enables the harvesting of surplus energy, which can be released to the grid as needed. This results in game-changing, integrated solutions that can improve the reliability of intermittent energy.

In Asia-Pacific, we are ripe for clean and efficient energy. Much of the world’s population is concentrated in this area, where we have some of the fastest developing economies in the world. By taking learnings from past HVDC projects, such as DolWin3, our region is better positioned to provide more sustainable, inclusive and reliable energy to accelerate the expansion of our local industries and economies. This could eventually translate to higher wages and reduced poverty.

By deregulating electricity, making appropriate financing solutions available, and identifying efficient regional and global trading schemes, we can revolutionize the energy landscape we know today. However, in order for that to happen, it is imperative that the industry makes the right investments today to enable renewable energy proliferation and deliver electricity to the grid in a way that ensures long-term efficiency and stability.

Lead image: DolWin Gamma during jacking up. Credit: TenneT, GE

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Jean-Pierre is the China, East Asia Pacific (CEAP) Region Leader, at GE Power’s Grid Solutions business based in Singapore, since July 2017. Jean-Pierre has over 30 years of vast experience in the power business. He started his career in engineering, project management and sales for hydro power plants in Indonesia and Korea. He then moved to Thailand to set up a unit to locally develop and execute energy and infrastructure projects. In 1999, he managed Alstom Power in Thailand, driving the successful sales and construction of several Small Power Producers (SPP) and Independent Power Producers (IPP) projects, before returning to France to lead Alstom’s Water unit in Nantes.

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