Bridging the long-distance gap to sustainable transportation

Truly clean electric mobility requires transmitting renewable electricity – no matter how far away the source

The world is racing into the electric-car future. Countries including China, Britain, France, Norway and India have announced plans to phase out fossil-fuel cars within decades. And many of the other signatories of the Paris climate accord are heavily promoting adoption of emission-free vehicles.

But even as electric vehicle use increases worldwide, the technology will be only as clean as the source of electricity. To really achieve zero emissions, these electric vehicles must be powered by renewable energy. And where hydro, wind or solar or other renewables are not locally available, it will be necessary to provide it over long distances.

  • Wind power
  • Solar power
  • Hydro power

That is why ABB’s technology for long-distance transmission of electricity is so vital to global adoption of sustainable transportation. The ABB Ability™ Network Manager SCADA/EMS system (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition/Energy Management System) guarantees high system reliability across electricity networks. The real-time platform manages all remotely controlled operations across energy generation, transmission and distribution systems.

In many power grids, depending on how far the electricity must travel between the point of generation and the customers using it, up to 15 percent of the power is lost along the way. That means a transmission line meant to serve a city of one million people would bring only enough power to serve 850,000 people.

So it is crucial to ensure that electricity can be transported from the remote areas where renewables like wind, solar and hydro are usually generated to the cities where electric vehicles are best suited for use. Today, thanks to high-voltage direct current, or HVDC, technology pioneered by ABB, grid operators can efficiently transmit power underground, underwater and across entire countries.

By employing direct current, HVDC is more efficient than the alternating current (AC) used in power grids and by electricity customers. Sending AC current over long distances requires the use of many specialized transformers and other supporting systems along the route.

HVDC, on the other hand, efficiently transports electricity in bulk across very long distances with much less equipment needed along the way. . Compared with AC, HVDC also vastly reduces transmission losses, -- potentially to less than 1 percent. HVDC technology is also able to provide precise control over the power flows in both directions, something that AC systems cannot do.

The latest version of ABB’s HVDC offerings, called HVDC Light, has doubled the technology’s power capacity to 3,000 megawatts and increased its range to more than 2,000 kilometers. Key to these remarkable advances is the semiconductor-based devices that provide greater control and make HVDC systems economical in a wider range of settings. Using this technology, a country the size of Canada is now actively connecting far-flung regions to the grid.

HVDC Light, which now links countries including Denmark, Germany and Norway, also assists in enabling grids to manage the intermittency associated with some renewables, such as when the wind is calm or the sun is not shining and the current does not flow.

HVDC is a key technology in paving the way for electric vehicles and sustainable mobility. With more electricity being generated from renewable energy sources, and then being transmitted hundreds or thousands of kilometers with minimal losses via HVDC lines, the car you charge at home will ultimately be responsible for zero carbon emissions. From the point of generation to consumption, it will be possible to provide totally clean electricity.

This will increasingly be true in regions where the energy infrastructure is relatively weaker, not just in developed nations. HVDC Light technology can provide support to less robust grids, and it is agile enough to stabilize irregular electricity flows by compensating quickly for power fluctuations. ABB is well aware of the revolutionary potential of this new technology and continues to innovate in this promising field.

An even more powerful ABB approach

Beyond HVDC transmission, there is now a more powerful alternative technology – ultra-high-voltage direct current, or UHVDC. ABB is now delivering and installing record-breaking 1,100 kilovolt UHVDC technology in China, which has the highest proportion of electric vehicles in the world.

UHVDC systems operating at over 1,100 kilovolts enable China to carry the considerable energy resources from its western and northwestern regions to major consumption centers, located mainly in the east. For instance, ABB UHVDC technology enabled the construction of a new power link, stretching more than 3,000 kilometers, from the Xinjiang region to eastern Anhui province with minimal losses.

Technologically, the equipment sets several new standards: Its capacity of up to 12,000 megawatts is the equivalent of 12 large power plants. Once completed, the Changji-Guquan UHVDC link will provide Chinese cities with roughly as much electricity as the total consumption of Argentina. Moreover, the new technology will help China and other countries take greater advantage of their renewable energy sources.

In addition to its leadership in HVDC and UHVDC technology, ABB is at the forefront of developing fast- and flash-charging technologies for electric vehicles. More than 6,000 of ABB’s charging stations have now been installed worldwide, and many of them are connected to power generated by renewable sources. ABB is working with transport officials around the world to establish electric vehicle infrastructure, setting up fast-charging networks for electric cars and buses as well as electrification solutions for ships and railways.

Technological advances like these are making it possible to run the world without consuming the earth. Strong cooperation between the private and public sectors is combining electric vehicles with renewable power generation and tying them together with smart grids. The faster this happens, the greater the benefits for everyone.

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