Directly Connected

Don’t Call it a comeback…

DC has been here for years, but it’s currently approaching a revival.

GE offshore

The yellow installation “jacket” in the front of the image will serve as an offshore platform for GE’s DC technology. Image credit: Nordic Yards

The variety of electrical current is often viewed as secondary to the longtime dominance of AC (alternating current) in most mainstream applications. But it’s been here, under the radar. Besides being a useful source of wordplay for some journalists’ pun appetite, it is still often utilized for cell phones, personal computers, flat screen televisions, and sometimes electric cars. For DC, one direction of energy flow is all that’s required, making it a more sensible and efficient option to such applications. Now, innovations and burgeoning industries are providing increased opportunities to use DC.

The offshore wind power industry is one of these sources. In Germany, the ambitious DolWin3 offshore project will be using direct current technology to move electricity over 100 miles of subsea cable from turbines spinning in the North Sea to its onshore power grid without significant losses. This is the first application of GE’s HVDC system.

HVDC cables are sometimes called “electrical super highways.” They are considered more reliable and efficient over long distances, and also when used as underwater cables, according to Dorothy Pomerantz of GE Reports. The method could be exponentially useful when combined with a renewable energy source like a wind turbine, which often generates power that fluctuates. The technology’s inherent stability can make renewable electricity easier to manage.

In Germany, one end of the cable will be connected to an offshore converter platform, which changes the power generated by the turbines from AC to DC. At the other end, it will terminate in the north German town of Dörpen. From there, it will be further routed through another set of converters which will switch the electricity back into AC and feed it into the grid.

This is the first time GE is using its new method to generate electricity at sea that is supplied to land. The project is expected to generate 900 megawatts at peak output, enough to replace a conventional power plant and supply 1 million homes, according to Pomerantz’ GE Report on July 19. GE is supplying the offshore and onshore converter stations, including the power transformers and the underground cables that will carry the electricity.

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