Where the power for the e-racer is created

Seven steps from producer to consumer

 

The race cars for the ABB FIA Formula E Championship need electricity. Ideally this comes from sustainable production, such as solar panels, windmills and hydropower plants. So how does renewably generated electricity make its way into the batteries of the e-racers as they curve their way around the Zurich lakeside this coming June 10?

ABB has long had a hand in the many technologies needed to make this happen. To move electricity from the producer to the consumer, meaning from a power plant to your mains plug, that electrical energy must be carried along a transmission network, across various stages and finally to your local distribution network. When transporting electrical energy over long distances, it is crucial that high voltages are available, as otherwise massive amounts of energy can be lost. This is not as simple as it sounds. The first stage — feed-in from the producer — and the last stage — delivery to the end consumer — are run at low voltages. As a result, currents must be transformed twice along the way — once from low to high voltage, and then back again. This is handled by transformers at gas or air-insulated substations. Depending on how the electricity will be used, the networks are fed different voltage levels. All of this distribution and current transformation is handled on seven different levels — and ABB has been a technology leader at each level for many years. There are other complications as well. The global standard for power transmission in networks is alternating current, which periodically changes its direction and polarity. In situations where direct current is produced, such as by photovoltaic equipment, that power must first be run through an inverter to create an alternating current. Each of these power transmission and conversion steps requires clever and mature technology.

The Elektrizitätswerk der Stadt Zürich (Electrical Works Zurich, or EWZ) is responsible for the local distribution of power in the city of Zurich – including ensuring that enough electrical energy is on hand in the local network to power the ABB FIA Formula E event. Their plans call for green Zurich power, primarily from hydropower generated in the canton of Grisons.


 

 
ABB technology: Power for e-cars

 

Glossary for the graphic

A direct current always travels in the same direction. Solar panels produce a direct current. Direct currents must first be converted into alternating current.

Alternating currents periodically change direction and polarity. Since the early 20th century, AC power has served as the global standard for power transmissions across networks. Both hydropower and wind power plants produce alternating currents. 

Inverters are converters used to convert direct currents into alternating currents and vice versa

Electrical currents are measured in volts. Wind power, solar power and hydropower plants produce low-voltage electricity. Before that electricity can be transported across networks, it must be somewhat compressed and transformed into high voltages.

Transformers serve to convert power from low to high voltages and vice versa.

A gas-insulated or air-insulated substation converts low-voltage currents to high voltages and vice versa. The former units are built into buildings; the latter are placed outdoors and thus require a lot of space. The switching and wiring facilities are highly visible. 

Transformer stations serve for local distribution of electricity to households — or charging stations for electric autos — at 230 volts for household mains plugs or 400 volts for modern rapid charge loading stations for e-cars.  

Power networks are used to transport electricity from producer to consumer. A tightly woven network increases the safety and availability of power. 

 

Private households rely on their mains plugs. The electric charging pillar holds a similar role for electric car owners. It is the key interface in the technologically complex power transfer process that runs from producer to consumer. For ABB, it is just one more modern application of the same process the company has pursued since its earliest days: bringing power from A to B and converting alternating current into direct current, and vice versa.

 

So at this point we’ve now got the power to the fast charging stations for electric vehicles — such as the Terra HP, the latest generation of electric refuelling equipment from ABB. With its 350 kilowatts of output, this high-performance charging system can deliver up to 200 kilometres worth of battery charge in just eight minutes. The electrical charging pillar is chock full of technology. Alternating current is converted into direct current, because the batteries demand it. Its electronics and transformers also automatically identify the size, charge status and capacity of the connected battery and prepare the necessary power flow based on the battery's rating. Yet that's not all that this electro-charging pillar, the fastest in the world, can do. It also works with ABB Ability, a cloud-based technology that lets Terra HP operators review all data remotely, in real time, for pro-active management of the technical status of their charging station. The result: round-the-clock monitoring and fewer breakdowns.