Ultra-high voltage research picks Terrassa

Wed Feb 01 00:00:00 UTC 2017

Improving energy efficiency and reducing the price of electricity will be the ultimate goal of AMBER, a new research center to study ultra-high voltage and the only one of its kind in Europe. Located in Terrassa (Barcelona), it will seek solutions to reduce electricity loss in existing energy transmission and distribution systems. The long-term goal for the projects coming out of this lab is to reduce energy costs for businesses as well as consumers. 

The founders of this research center are the company SBI Connectors and the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), working with the research group Motion Control and Industrial Applications (MCIA). The latter is an innovative laboratory located within the Polytechnic Institute Terrassa Campus (IPCT), which is equipped with an ultra-high voltage continuous current generator of up to 1.5 million volts. The tower is 13 meters tall and it is Europe's most powerful, as well as the largest of its type in Spain. 

The main challenge for the engineers is to find new types of connectors for electric lines, as this is where most energy is lost. "If we increase energy efficiency, we can reduce energy production, which would mean savings on a nationwide level", explained Joan Pérez, CEO of the SBI Connectors. "If we can reduce these energy losses, then energy production will be more affordable, and sooner or later this will have an effect on consumers", added Pérez, who noted that everything depends on the utility companies, who manage the grid. 

The founders of the center, who began the project close to five years ago, have already achieved a reduction of up to 30% in power losses from the connection of two energy distribution cables. But in addition to helping customers' pocketbooks via cost reductions in their energy bills, the advances from this laboratory could also provide future environmental benefits.

Currently, the high-voltage grids in Europe run at up to 400,000 volts, but when they reach the limit of their capacity the electrical losses are greater. This problem can be seen, for example, when you are walking on a forest path and pass under high-voltage lines, and can hear the sound of sparks coming from the devices that connect the lines. These sparks, depending on the direction of the wind, can cause forest fires. "If we can manage to reduce the current loss of electricity, this will reduce the sparks from the towers, which will in turn reduce the risk of fires", said Pérez. 

In addition, the new center will carry out R&D projects related with energy and climate change, clean energy production, and energy efficiency, with a special emphasis on the area of electricity transmission and sustainable mobility. "At this laboratory we will respond to the needs of the transport sector for new renewable energies such as solar and wind power", said José Luis Romeral, director of the center and of MCIA. 

The founders of AMBER have already had success with a project for efficient energy connections between the US and Canada. Future projects will include improving electrical inter-connections between different European countries, as well as new electrical grids in developing countries. The market is not a small one: it represents 80 billion euros annually, and will grow by 25% over the next 15 years.

Source: Diari Ara