Northern lights: ABB’s unique hydropower retrofit supports power supply in spectacular Canadian setting

A remote location, rare solution and required retrofit drew on ABB’s depth of technology and century of experience in power generation. Taking into account geographical and cultural aspects, ABB’s solution is helping provide clean hydropower to pristine parts of Northern Canada.


It is a province of deep forests and river valleys, rolling prairie hills and highlands. Manitoba, at Canada's center, is also home to a number of North American indigenous groups - including the Assiniboine and Ojibwa in the south, the Cree and Chipewyan in the north, and the Inuit on the Hudson Bay coast - who have lived among this spectacular setting for thousands of years.

Furthermore, it is a region where water is ever-present - for Manitoba contains more than 38,500 lakes, including Lake Winnipeg, one of the world's largest inland bodies of fresh water. And it is this natural resource that powers the 115-megawatt (MW) Jenpeg hydropower plant, located on the Nelson River about 500 kilometers north of the provincial capital, Winnipeg. Owned by Manitoba Hydro, the primary power utility in the province, the plant serves more than 560,000 electricity customers, while nearly all the utility's 5,690 MW generating capacity comes from 15 hydroelectric plants deployed on rivers across Manitoba.

ABB has delivered a fully integrated electrification solution to Jenpeg that was the first generating station in North America to install horizontal bulb-type turbine generators, designed and manufactured in the former Soviet Union. These generating units eliminate the need to excavate deeply into the bedrock under the river in order to position hydro turbines.

Custom-built solution
ABB's task was to retrofit Generating Unit 1, which meant a custom-built solution for a turbine governor installation. In the world of hydropower, governor controls are typically a black box solution, offering little opportunity for customization. However, Manitoba Hydro and ABB were together able to embed custom applications right into the governor control system design. The work was achieved without Manitoba Hydro's customers experiencing any interruption of service to their energy supply.

The scope of supply for this $9.2 million CAD ($7.4 million USD) order covered a full excitation system, relay-based control and synchronization, a protection system, a customized medium-voltage generator terminal cubicle (GTC) and ABB HVR generator circuit breaker, ABB governor controller and manifold, and power control cables. The GTC solution was also completely customized and fit the exact footprint of the original GTC, modernizing the system while minimizing civil works.

"What distinguishes ABB is not just our competence at upgrading or replacing existing power generation assets, but our decades of innovation and expertise which we employ to improve the performance of our customers' systems, and adapt them to changing operational requirements," says Kevin Kosisko, Managing Director of ABB's Power Generation & Water business. "ABB offers customized and digital solutions for power generation, including our state-of-the-art Symphony Plus control technology."

Cultural awareness
Manitoba Hydro regularly consults with First Nations leaders (one of the indigenous peoples of Canada), local resource users, and regional organizations on issues of mutual interest and concern, thereby promoting respect for indigenous cultures and different world views.
Similarly, before starting work, ABB held a training session with a Manitoba-based Indigenous Relations consultant in order to familiarize the Jenpeg project team with First Nations sensitivities, history, traditions and protocol.

ABB has a history of engagement with First Nations communities at other projects in Canada. These include Iskueteu-ABB, a joint venture with an indigenous limited partnership to provide maintenance services for the Voisey Bay nickel mining project in Labrador, and initiatives in the Ring of Fire mining belt in Northern Ontario - echoing the same respect for the environment that is a hallmark of the Jenpeg retrofit project.

ABB is a leading provider of integrated power and automation solutions with unparalleled experience in partnering with the energy and water industries, bringing them improved operations and sustainable progress. We deliver integrated and secure digital systems, services and solutions to automate and optimize the performance of conventional and renewable power plants and water facilities.

ABB (ABBN: SIX Swiss Ex) is a pioneering technology leader in electrification products, robotics and motion, industrial automation and power grids, serving customers in utilities, industry and transport & infrastructure globally. Continuing a history of innovation spanning more than 130 years, ABB today is writing the future of industrial digitalization with two clear value propositions: bringing electricity from any power plant to any plug and automating industries from natural resources to finished products. As title partner of Formula E, the fully electric international FIA motorsport class, ABB is pushing the boundaries of e-mobility to contribute to a sustainable future. ABB operates in more than 100 countries with about 135,000 employees.


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