GE Research has been awarded $5.8MM in funding from the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) for a three-year project to develop and demonstrate a super-fast DC Circuit Breaker.

12Feb - GE Research

Image: GE received ARPA-E project to develop super-fast DC Circuit Breaker essential for next generation MVDC grids. Photo: Courtesy of General Electric.

GE said that the project is part of a broader interest by ARPA-E to upgrade existing AC distribution grids and expand opportunities for congested areas to access remote clean energy sources to meet their future power needs.

GE Research principal scientist and MVDC program principal investigator Timothy Sommerer said: “Many big urban cities today are facing higher electricity demands because of growing applications such as electric vehicle charging, with limited options for tapping into new energy sources.

“By upgrading existing AC distributions grids to MVDC grids, it would allow these cities to cast a much wider net in securing new clean renewable energy sources. The new super-fast DC circuit breaker we’re developing is an essential component for enabling the distribution grid upgrade from AC to MVDC.”

The company said that the team leverages innovative gas discharge tube technology to develop the medium voltage direct current (MVDC) circuit breaker.

Gas discharge tubes would switch without mechanical motion by transitioning the internal gas between its ordinary insulating state and highly conductive gas plasma, facilitating much faster response times to handle DC currents.

The envisioned MVDC distribution lines are expected to support up to 100,000volts and more than 100MW of power to meet the needs of large cities.

Sommerer added: “Because DC doesn’t inherently contain natural breaks like AC that help manage faults, you need to have a switch with an extremely fast response time that can create these breaks. That’s exactly the challenge GE’s technology will address.”

“The development of DC grid technologies could vastly increase the flexibility utilities have in addressing future power needs. Imagine the day when cities like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles have the option of accessing electricity from multiple wind installations in the Midwest to meet electric vehicle charging needs.”