ABB achieves another milestone in electrical engineering

Magnus Callavik

The hybrid HVDC breaker

ABB has successfully designed and developed a hybrid DC breaker after years of  research, functional testing and simulation in the R&D laboratories. This breaker is a breakthrough that solves a technical  challenge that has been unresolved for over a hundred years and was perhaps one the main influencers in the ‘war of currents‘ outcome.  The ‘hybrid’ breaker combines mechanical and power electronics switching that enables it to interrupt power flows equivalent to the output of a nuclear power station within 5 milliseconds – that’s as fast as a honey bee takes per flap of its wing – and more than 30 times faster than the reaction time of an Olympic 100-meter medalist to react to the starter’s gun!  But its not just about speed. The challenge was to do it ‘ultra-fast’ with minimal operational losses and this has been achieved by combining advanced ultrafast mechanical actuators with our inhouse semiconductor IGBT valve technologies or power electronics (watch video: Hybrid HVDC Breaker – How does it work).

In terms of significance, this breaker is a ‘game changer’. It removes a significant stumbling block in the development of HVDC transmission grids where planning can start now. These grids will enable interconnection and load balancing between HVDC power superhighways integrating renewables and transporting bulk power across long distances with minimal losses. DC grids will enable sharing of resources like lines and converter stations that provides reliability and redundancy in a power network in an economically viable manner with minimal losses. ABB’s new Hybrid HVDC breaker, in simple terms will enable the transmission system to maintain power flow even if there is a fault on one of the lines.

This is a major achievement for the global R&D team in ABB who have worked for years on the challenge and finally come up with a circuit breaker capable of blocking and breaking DC currents at thousands of amperes and several  hundred thousands of volts –  corresponding to the average power consumption of one million Europeans ! It amounts to stopping power capable of feeding a large city much faster than an eye blink ! This speed helps protect the DC transmission system and prevent power outages in new low loss compact power superhighways. The next step is to install the breaker in pilot installations.

HVDC transmission remains a technology of choice for bulk power transmission over long distances with minimum losses. HVDC lines also require less space and are capable of going underground or underwater. Voltage source converter based HVDC applications in embedded AC grids and for offshore connections have grown substantially, in line with quantum leaps in power ratings and significant loss reductions.  ABB pioneered HVDC transmission nearly 60 years ago and accounts for half the world’s HVDC installed base. It is befitting that the company that commissioned the world’s first 800 kilovolt UHVDC systems, the longest overhead HVDC link to go into commercial operation, the world’s longest underwater and underground HVDC links now writes the next chapter in the history of this technology and marks an important milestone in the legacy of electrical engineering.


Further power articles:

Thinking beyond standards

Energy efficiency and the FACTS

About the author

Magnus Callavik

Vice president and General Manager ABB Sifang Power Co. Ltd., Previously Technology Manager for BU Grid Integration, a part of ABB’s Power Grids division
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  • Jerome Kaeslin

    Could ABB be a bit more specific about the operation of their new switch and point us to some technical or scientific publications, please? The video animation is virtually free of information. It is safe to assume that ABB has applied for patent protection and is now free to disclose more details. Thank you. 

  • Let us hope that ABB knows how to market this innovation properly.
    We have seen many such innovations like the powerformer going down the drain.

  • Congratulation to all team of ABB

  • This is a major achievement for the global R&D team in ABB

  • Great, ABB, you Rock..

  • Fantastic!! I worked under 1965-1968 at ASEA's Central Labs in Västeraas on research for a plasma HVDC breaker
    coupled with SiC non-linear resistors under the leadership of Bo Breitholzt and I'm absolutely delighted that 44 years
    later and using Silicon Power Technology that untractable problem has been solved.
    Alva Edison in the US and René Thury (the King of DC) in Switzerland would resuscitate, if they could know.
    Hugo Wyss, Life Senior Member IEEE,

  • Fantastic! I worked under 1965-1968 at ASEA's Central Labs in Västeraas on research for a HVDC breaker, using a plasma
    switch and SiC resistors for taking up the power from the inductive line.My boss then was Dr. Bo Breitholzt, who later became professor at KTH. After 44 years I'm delighted to see this dream come true!
    Alva Edison in the US and René Thury (the King of DC) in Switzerland would resuscitate, if they could get the news!

  • it's so amazing to combine between mechanical and power electronics engineering with this ultra fast switching it's one of the mechatronics engineering application and it's become more safety,fast and reliable to break the power.

  • it's so amazing to combine between the mechanical & electrical engineering by using the HVDC breaker it's will be more fast , safety and more reliable to deal with the high voltage stations like nuclear power stations or solar energy stations and so on and it's one of the mechatronics engineering applications.

  • A remarkable outside comment I have read was on a Swiss website. Edison is smiling in his grave... Congratulations to the ABB research teams. This breakthrough makes us all proud. 

  • Lewis_Vaughan

    Hey, this is excellent news, though it seems it was a long time in coming. I guess the demand for a dc breaker hasn't been very great before now. In the meantime, I wonder why the picture on the cover of this announcement in Inside ABB shows the tangled mess of wires from long ago. These are mostly telephone circuits - with nothing to do with power distribution, ac or dc.

  • What a breakthrough! Undoubtedly, ABB takes a huge leap in HVDC technology after introducing electro-mechanical circuit breaker (hybrid HVDC breaker). 
    My final year project is on HVDC control mechanism in steady state and load imbalances. Its so great to see how ambitious ABB is in covering an extra mile for an improvement of HVDC Technology.

  • Marc Berthoud

    Planet Erde hat nur dann eine Chance zu ueberleben, wenn er 100%
    elektrifiziert wird und der interne Verbrennungsmotor im Muelleimer
    der Geschichte dieses Planeten landet.HGÜ-Netze sind das sine
    qua non dieses anstehenden energetischen Umbaus.

    mit Solarpanels, die fuer 0.38 USD/Watt hergestellt und fuer weitere
    0.22 USD/Watt installiert und betrieben werden koennen (und sich
    darum an Orten mit mehr als 4000 Sonnenstunden/Jahr in weniger als
    einem 1 Jahr amortisieren) breitet sich vor unseren Augen eine
    Zukunft aus, die noch vor wenigen Jahren undenkbar erschien -
    Gratisenergie in fuer viele kommende Generationen unerschoepflichen
    Mengen.Und genau so, wie die Vision der 80iger Jahre, dass einmal
    in jedem Haushalt 1 Computer stehen werde, nach nur 1 Generation
    nicht nur wahr, sondern bei weitem uebertroffen wurde, wird es auch
    beim energetischen Umbau sein - nur dass es noch sehr viel schneller
    gehen wird, denn das Moorsche Gesetz basiert auf einer sich alle 2 Jahre verdoppelnden Prozessorkapazitaet, waehrend Solarenergie sich
    schon nach 1 Jahr amortisiert...

  • Boy I'm getting OLD   I'd had just explained to some kids why we had to use AC. Then i read this article

    • I've been thaught all my life why are the reasons to use everything is changing. 

  • Boy i must be getting OLD and way behind.   I had just explained to some Kids why we had to use A c

  • It is a great achievement, but the author leaves out part of the story.

    I have read their patents. Their new device appears to fall under several US patents, including probably 5,517,378 (to Gunnar Asplund), but hybridized with more recent innovations like IGCTs (integrated gate commutated thyristors) and one of their fast electromechanical switch designs (there are several). The published information does not yet make it clear which of their 417 issued US patents on circuit breakers actually apply. This is no doubt a big advance from the prior art DC circuit breaker of US patent 3,809,959 (from ASEA before they joined Brown-Boveri to form ABB), but it is not true to say it is the "world's first circuit breaker for HVDC." It is true to say it is more compact and faster than the prior art methods. However, the prior art ASEA method is widely deployed in HVDC schemes today, to shut down one leg of a bipole HVDC scheme when needed (so that the other leg can still operate as a monopole with ground return in case of a fault on one leg of the scheme). The key questions to ask are, what are the on-state losses (I estimate 0.25% of transmitted power), and what does it cost (I estimate $35/kW, about 100 times higher than an AC breaker to interrupt equivalent AC power). I do not mean any sour grapes, it is a great achievement, just that one should ask the hard questions...

    for a more detailed critique, see my blog post:

  • Fulgore_Qlo_Sexon

    hello,why the detailed description of the hybrid HVDC breaker has been erased? I cannot see it.
    Can someone get me a new link or some detailed information about how it works.Thanks you.


    what is proactive here?

  • Navjeet Singh

    i learn so many things from this blog.keep updating.thank you so much.

  • Keith Howell

    See U. S. Patent #4636907 Jan. 13, 1987 for a hybrid circuit breaker describing the identically same concept.

  • syamdev c s

    what is the cost of HVDC circuit breakers available today? Upto what rating the breakers are avilable for hvdc transmission?

  • Steven LaPidus

    The new technology of HVDC breakers have been discussed for decades. They are the key component that has been necessary to get away from AC transmission issues of electron flow by path of least resistance and the inability to contract To/From utility substations including specific transmission losses. Now by turning specific AC transmission lines or even complete AC transmission systems such as the US Western Area Power Administration into DC transmission lines or systems with the use of HVDC breakers could now allow for the contracted To/From contracting of transmission with specific losses to be calculated and included into the contract.