Britain’s biggest DNO Western Power Distribution is trialling a new hyper-fast current breaker, assessing its potential to play a crucial role in evolving bi-directional power flows.
The device is called EDGE-FCLi, cumbersome acronym for the even lumpier “power electronic fault current limiter”. Installed on a test bed on campus at Warwick University, its trial is believed to be the first of its kind in Britain.
In the event of a short-circuit or blow out on a network, the EDGE-FCLi device can cut the current in less than 200 micro seconds.
That’s 1,000 times quicker than conventional, mechanical methods.
Such lightning fast circuit breakers have increasing value, as tomorrow’s – and today’s – grids shoulder increasing burdens of helping distributed generators spark energy via reverse paths back into the grid, through low carbon sources such as solar, wind and vehicle-to-grid (V2G) electric storage.
By quickly stopping current flows when a fault occurs, the device will reduce the risk of big power surges fritzing network kit, resulting in outages.
In consequence, outages can be fixed more quickly, saving downtime, disruption and repair costs. Ultimately, bill payers too should benefit.
Dan Hardman, WPD’s innovation engineer looking after the project, said: “This is not the first fault limiter. But it is one of the first power electronic fault limiters in the UK.
“We are getting more and more distributed generation connected to the grid,” Hardman went on. “If you keep increasing the amount of generation, the current that flows under fault conditions can exceed the rating of the grid, causing damage to equipment and ultimately affecting power supplies.
“If there is a fault, this device can detect the fault using clever electronics and opens itself to break the circuit. It acts very quickly to disconnect the fault current.”
Warwick University was chosen as a testbed due to the volume of current it generates through its CHP generator, beneficiary of £4 million since initial installation in 2001.
EDGE-FCLi will be trialled for at least a year. If proven, the technology could potentially be used at other locations across the network.
Bought in March 2021 by National Grid for £7.8 billion, WPD delivers DNO services connecting eight million homes and firms across the Midlands, South West and South Wales. The company says it invests £1 billion in its network every year.