Tech firms ramping up transmission technology research

Recently companies like General Electric, Toshiba, and ABB have announced projects concerning new power transmission technologies, including high-voltage Direct Current transmission in response to the forecasted increase in electricity demands.

Simply put, the world is going to need more transmission capabilities. The Energy Information Administration estimates that electricity demand will grow 93 percent over the next 27 years, rising from 20.2 trillion kilowatt hours in 2010 to 39 trillion kilowatt hours by 2040. Most of the growth will occur in emerging nations, where transmission and distribution networks are often inadequate, rickety and subject to failure.

These technologies are not being developed in response to microgrid systems that are becoming more popular, they are being developed to be used in addition to microgrid systems, since there will be a need for long distance transmission.

While decentralized power delivered through microgrids and energy storage will likely play a fundamental role in meeting the demand for electricity in these countries, it’s a good bet that centralized power plants linking to long-distance transmission lines will be there too. You can’t live next door to an offshore wind farm, after all. In China, the areas of high solar radiation are located far away from manufacturing and urban centers, according to Frank Haugwitz, director of the Asia Europe Clean Energy Advisory Co.

These technologies will be better able to handle the influx of renewable energies as well as be more efficient.

The latest technology, meanwhile, provides distinct advantages. An HVDC transmission line carrying thousands of megawatts might lose 6 to 8 percent of its power over 1,000 miles. A similar AC line can lose 12 to 25 percent. DC lines can also better manage the variable output from renewable power plants. South Korea, China, Japan and the Scandinavian nations were early adopters of HVDC: the U.S. has projects underway as well.

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