Hybrid Breaker Could Make High-Voltage DC Viable

As much as Americans like to celebrate the achievements of Thomas Edison, it sounds like he was kind of a jerk. He has been accused of blatantly stealing other inventors’ ideas, running a smear campaign against Nikola Tesla, electrocuting animals for no good reason, and being something of a petty tyrant when it came to his employees. But he may have been right about the future of electricity.

Back in the 1890s, Edison was the champion of DC, while other great minds of the day preferred AC. If you paid attention at all in school, you probably realize AC was the eventual winner. Alternating current was able to send energy over long distances better than direct current, and with fewer potential problems if something went wrong.

High-voltage DC may keep the lights on thanks to a new hybrid breaker. Courtesy of Karl Baron.

Various technological breakthroughs have made high-voltage DC at least a viable alternative, but the potential for disaster has kept it mainly on the back burner. Now that problem may have been solved. Swiss-based ABB has developed a hybrid mechanical/power electronics breaker that, according to the company, can shut down lines in around five milliseconds in the event of a fault.

So, why is this important? One of the problems with renewable energy is how far most sources are from the grid. High-voltage DC lines tend to be thinner than AC lines, and are easier to insulate. This makes high-voltage DC lines less expensive to put in place, and easier to bury or run underwater. Assuming the breaker works as intended, this could be a step in the direction of increased production of renewable energy.

Below you’ll find a short video demonstrating how the hybrid breaker operates.

Sources: National Geographic, ABB

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