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very little relationship to how the Ballistic Breaker works.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Significance of Ballistic Breakers™ for the Atlantic Wind Connection

The Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) can only be built as planned if there is a workable DC circuit breaker. I have not been able to determine definitively what kind of DC breaker is planned for this project, but the fact that ABB presented this paper at the ARPA-E  Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI) conference December 13, 2010  means that IGBT based breakers are at least under active consideration. I'd hate to have to rely on IGBT-based circuit breakers, for numerous reasons:
  • cost;
  • disastrous failure mode which essentially requires full redundancy for each breaker + flawless maintenance practices;
  • poor resistance to overcurrent;
  • on-state losses (which depend on power transmitted; these losses follow Ohm's Law). 
It might be possible to get away with IGBT-based circuit breakers on the AWC (see below figure), because there will only be a total of 11 or so power taps on the AWC (including offshore wind farms which are not shown in the figure below); but building a supergrid based on IGBT circuit breakers is a non-starter. In order to build a reliable, redundant HVDC grid, one needs not only DC circuit breakers at each tap, but also at least a few trunk line circuit breakers. IGBT-based approaches to trunk line circuit protection imply high losses, comparable to all other transmission losses, if there is a main line circuit breaker between each next neighbor set of power taps, as is necessary for maximum reliability and redundancy.
Our patent pending Ballistic Breaker™ does not use semiconductors to break the circuit (here is an executive summary). Ballistic Breakers™ work equally well for AC or DC power, and do not ignite an arc while breaking the circuit. They can scale to any voltage and current (though the higher the voltage, the more time it takes to open the circuit). Ballistic Breakers™ could have been invented 120 years ago, but they were not, because the entire Electrical Intelligentsia turned their attention from DC to AC around 1890. It is actually MORE valuable, because at the core, it is simple.

I believe my elpipe technology (described in the attached paper I presented to the Power and Energy Society at their July meeting in Detroit) is a complementary technology to offshore power lines. Elpipes enable high capacity underground HVDC transmission; there would be a large reliability boost if the two ends of he AWC could be tied into a land-based HVDC line that "completes the loop." Electrical loops are "self-redundant" because any pair of taps on the loop are connected in two directions: clockwise and counter-clockwise, as long as there are circuit breakers between each next-neighbor set of power taps (as described in my PES paper and this more recent discussion of highly redundant HVDC grids based on elpipes in China). Ballistic Breakers™ can be economical enough, plus they have negligible on-state losses, so that power may travel through many Ballistic Breakers™ between where it is generated and where it is used, as is needed to create a fully redundant DC loop. But I know we must crawl before we can walk, so my initial development effort for Ballistic Breakers™ is aimed at 6kV DC, not at HVDC applications like AWC.

The Atlantic Wind Connection and Tres Amigas are the two most innovative transmission projects in North America, I think. I very much want both of of these projects to succeed.

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