It’s hard to avoid faults within electrical power systems, and the fault currents they cause increase as more energy sources are connected to our...

It’s hard to avoid faults within electrical power systems, and the fault currents they cause increase as more energy sources are connected to our distribution systems. That’s a concern as work continues to make our power grids both smarter and more clean-energy-based.

That’s why the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) is launching a £4-million ($6.4 million) project aimed at reducing the impact of fault currents on electricity networks. The effort will also look at ways to enable the growth and increased flexibility of distribution systems while minimizing capital expenditure in upgrading electrical networks in the UK.

As part of the project, the ETI will test a Fault Current Limiter (FCL) solution from GridON, an Israeli company that won an innovation award in GE’s ecomagination Challenge. Once the FCL is built by Wilson Transformer Company — a transformer engineering and manufacturing company, and one of GridON’s shareholders — and independently tested, it will be installed and demonstrated in service on the UK Power Networks’ (UKPN) substation in East Sussex. E.ON will provide network analysis and data management for the project.

Existing techniques to manage fault currents are costly and can negatively affect power quality, stability, reliability and security of supply. As a result, fault current levels are becoming a significant barrier to the installation of low-carbon and other generation facilities. Managing fault levels will also enable the growth of smarter energy distribution systems.

“Although we hear a lot about the importance of renewable energy sources to the UK’s future energy mix, the infrastructure that provides power and heat to people’s homes and businesses is also vital,” said David Clarke, chief executive of ETI. “This project will deliver a radical new approach for a fault current limiter which will be thoroughly demonstrated on a live substation. FCLs which are reliable and cost effective would benefit distribution network operators, suppliers of distributed generation equipment as well as consumers who would experience more reliable electricity supply at a time when more energy is generated from
renewable sources.”

“This project has a game changing potential,” added Yoram Valent, chief executive of GridON. “The holy grail for network operators is a fault current limiter that requires practically no maintenance, uses established technologies and has instantaneous response. This would be the first time that such a device is put to the test within the context of a live network in partnership and collaboration with two of the world’s largest and most advanced and versatile utilities, namely UKPN and E.ON.”

GridON’s fault current limiter instantaneously turns itself into a very high impedance system upon current surges, and limits the current for as long as required to clear the fault. According to the company, it recovers immediately thereafter and thus can protect from multiple faults occurring in quick succession. In addition to its fault currents suppression ability, the device also enables current regulation and reactive power balancing.