Countries across the globe have embraced wind power, recognizing its potential to reduce carbon emissions and foster sustainable development. China, the United States and Germany have all made substantial investments in wind power, while the United Kingdom, Denmark and the Netherlands are all pioneering offshore wind projects, demonstrating the immense possibilities of this clean energy source.
What’s more, the cost of wind energy has significantly reduced, enhancing its competitiveness in the global energy market. Ongoing innovations and economies of scale have resulted in reduced production costs, making wind power increasingly affordable compared to traditional energy sources. This positive trend has encouraged substantial investments in wind projects and has motivated governments to set ambitious renewable energy targets. There are some present concerns about inflation and the availability of raw materials, but these are likely short-term phenomena.
Emerging technologies and leading-edge engineering – some of which has been years in development – is now reaching the market in practical, scalable form. Larger wind turbines, with larger capacity, can harness more power from the wind than ever before.
But as wind turbines become larger and more powerful, their component requirements must change in order to bring the optimal benefits. Medium voltage (MV) converters are a good fit because they provide many benefits at higher power levels.
The higher voltage level of MV converters means lower currents in the electrical drivetrain, along with an easier integration of the converter into the turbine. As a result, a lower number of lighter and less expensive cabling can be used. What’s more, these converters have a more compact footprint and are lighter in weight. They also feature high-efficiency integrated gate-commutated thyristor (IGCT) technology, as well as an advanced control algorithm that optimizes the operation of the generator while minimizing losses. The converter’s low part count and fuseless design ensure high availability and reduced maintenance requirements. This, in turn, results in a lower total cost of ownership. All these advantages help wind park operators to achieve a good return on their investment.
In the near future, ABB’s MV wind converters will have ratings of up to 20 MW and beyond. Designed for utility-scale wind turbines, they will be able to deliver an estimated 33% uplift in power with the same number of components as their lower power predecessors.
The right choice of wind converter also has a significant impact on grid stability. Rated to handle higher power output and better able to stabilize voltage and frequency fluctuations caused by changing wind conditions, the new generation MV converters enable a higher penetration of renewable energy into the grid without compromising on stability.
More powerful, just as compact
By maintaining a low part count despite delivering more power, MV wind converters’ compact nature allows for easy customization and fewer points of failure, minimizing downtime. Plus, the new generation of MV wind converters have built-in intelligent software and digital features. This enables monitoring and diagnostics to be carried out remotely, better preparing engineers for an efficient service intervention when they arrive on site.
Testing next generation technologies
As we strive toward a low-carbon society, increasing the availability of renewable energy equipment for use within the power grid is key. But we also need to establish how to operate this equipment as safely, reliably and, of course, as efficiently as possible. This is where rigorous testing comes in, to ensure grid performance, stability and regulatory compliance.
Right now, the growing number, power and size of offshore wind turbines is pushing current testing facilities, and their procedures, to the limit. Yet power grids still need to maintain total stability and performance while integrating ever increasing amounts of intermittent renewables like wind and solar. That’s why more advanced testing facilities are needed.
ABB has partnered with the Fraunhofer Institute of Wind Energy Systems (IWES) to develop what’s set to become the world’s largest mobile grid simulator.
The new mobile grid simulator will assess renewable energy equipment, including components of wind turbines, in real-world conditions. Its mobile capability has the flexibility to be used in the field or on test benches to simulate dynamic and steady-state grid conditions.
The test program will verify that a renewable project connecting to a public power network is fully compliant with stringent local grid codes and will not compromise grid performance and stability.
The mobile grid simulator will use the ACS6080 Power Electronics Grid Simulator (PEGS) technology developed by ABB to create an artificial power grid on site. Fraunhofer IWES will use the system to simulate different grid operating modes, including fault conditions, as well as validating compliance with all standards.
Its flexible and modular structure allows for almost unlimited configuration potential. In addition to its practical testing application, the mobile simulator will play an important role in research and development, particularly for various grid-of-the-future scenarios.
As the largest of its kind in the world, the mobile grid simulator will have a power rating of up to 28 megavolt ampere (MVA) and a short-time capability of up to 80 MVA. For additional flexibility, it will also be able to operate as two independent units of 14 MVA. In addition to the PEGS technology, the full package solution delivered by ABB will include transformers, filters, e-houses, cooling equipment and power and auxiliary distribution equipment.
MV wind converters help wind park operators to maintain profitability by offering clear benefits, including higher efficiency, lower total cost of ownership and greater reliability, at the higher turbine power levels now demanded by new offshore wind parks.
There may be challenges, such as sourcing suitable materials to construct high-power MV converters, the availability of advanced testing facilities and supply chain delays. But heavy investment in offshore wind turbine research and development is helping to leap these hurdles, enabling the construction of even larger offshore wind turbines and even better fuel economy. This will surely speed the journey to net zero.
Jonas Wahlström is Head of Product Management, Wind Converters at ABB. Jonas has more than 20 years’ experience in international business, including product management, product development, business development, and strategy development and implementation.
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