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HVDC Vs AC Technology in Power Transmission: 500KV Bipolar Ethiopia - Kenya HVDC Project

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Daisy Muthamia's picture
Electrical Engineer, Kenya Electricity Transmission Company

I am an electrical engineer in power transmission currently with the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company and with experience in design and implementation of high voltage substation and...

  • Member since 2021
  • 3 items added with 1,953 views
  • Jun 29, 2022

The Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (KETRACO) and Ethiopia Electric Power Company (EEP) are in the process of interconnecting their two power systems through the construction of a 1069 km, 500 kV bipolar High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission line with a 2000 MW capacity. The transmission project, which is at the final stages of commissioning runs from Woloyta in Ethiopia to Suswa in Kenya. 

Upon completion, the project will support the interconnection of countries within the Eastern Africa Power Pool - including creating part of the backbone of interconnectors for the region. This forms one of various transmission interconnection projects which are currently under development to integrate the Eastern Africa power market. At a later stage, these interconnectors will see the region connected to the Southern Africa Power Pool through Tanzania.

Typical utility-scale power plants generate alternating current (AC) electricity, and most electrical loads run on AC power. Therefore, most transmission lines are of the AC type. Nevertheless, we often see DC application in connecting off-shore wind generation; in instances where right‐of‐way is constrained; where power is to be transmitted over long distances; and when interconnecting asynchronous grids. In this article we are going to have a brief look at the HVDC technology and how it differs from AC transmission. 

One of the greatest limiting factors for HVDC projects is the high cost of converter stations. AC systems usually have lower capital costs, but their cost increases rapidly with distance covered, due to the requirement for volt-ampere reactive support. Breakeven studies looking at distance, voltage, power transfer and lifecycle costs show that the capital cost slope for HVDC systems flattens as distance increases - usually with a breakeven point achieved at distances between 500 - 700km. This is partly due to the way HVDC conductors are configured. AC systems have three separate phases, usually with heavy multiple bundles of conductors. Consequently, the towers must be massive to support the weight. A HVDC line can deliver comparable amounts or even higher amounts of power, using only two sets of conductors as opposed to three, so the towers don’t have to be quite as large,  resulting in a much lower installed cost on the transmission line part.

At a time when grid development should be environmentally sustainable, HVDC transmission offers environmental advantages as it has less wayleave requirement compared to an AC transmission line for the same amount of power transfer. AC transmission lines also have higher visual impact due to use of larger steel structures.

HVDC transmission provides other advantages over AC transmission such as power flow control which offers stability to the network and power quality. HVDC systems have highly dynamic components which interact with AC systems contributing to system stability by improving overall dynamic behavior of power systems. For example, the voltage control of VSC HVDC links can be used to damp oscillations at the AC side; and the HVDC link can provide frequency support to other asynchronous zones through adequate control of the power flow through the link.

AC and DC technologies also differ in the components used. Some of the key components in a HVDC system include system poles, converter stations, converter valves, converter transformers, AC filters, DC filters, electrodes, and smoothing reactors.

AC power from generating station is first converted into DC with the help of a rectifier. The DC power then flows through the overhead lines and, at the receiving end, is then converted into AC using an inverter. Thus, converters on the terminal ends of a HVDC link carry out the AC to DC and DC to AC conversion. 

A converter station includes valve bridges and converter transformers. Modern HVDC converters use a 12-pulse valve bridge - made up of in-series-connected thyristor modules. The valves are installed in valve halls and require cooling with water or air.

Converter transformers have two sets of three phase windings, connected in star and delta, and they convert the AC networks to DC networks or vice versa. The AC side winding is connected to the AC bus bar and the valve side winding is connected to the valve bridge. The valve side transformer winding is designed to withstand alternating voltage stress and direct voltage stress from the valve bridge. 

HVDC converters generate harmonics which have some adverse effects, such as interference with telephone lines and production of resonance in AC circuits - resulting in over voltages. AC and DC filters are therefore used to minimize these harmonics. AC filters are RLC circuits connected between phases and earth; and offer low impedances to high harmonic frequencies. They also provide reactive power required during operation of converters. DC filters divert DC harmonics to ground and are connected between the pole bus and the neutral bus.

Each pole consists of series-connected smoothing reactors which reduce the steepness of voltage-current surges from the DC line and are useful in preventing commutation failures occurring in inverters by reducing the rate of rising of the DC line in the bridge. Thus, the stresses on the converter valves and valve surge diverters are reduced.

A HVDC system also includes electrodes, usually conductors which are used to connect the system to the earth. Other key components include the AC and DC switchgear.

The Eastern Africa Highway project is not the first HVDC line in Africa. Other major HVDC transmission line projects in Africa include the Inga - Kolwesi in DRC (580MW, 1700 km, in operation since 1982), Cahora Bassa, connecting Mozambique and South Africa (1920 MW, 1420 km, in operation since 1979), and Caprivi Link, connecting Namibia and Zambia (300 MW, 950 km, in operation since 2010). Other HVDC projects in the pipeline include the EuroAfrica Interconnector a 1000MW HVDC link between Egypt and Cyprus and the 1300km with 16km submarine, 500kV, 3000MW Egypt – Saudi Arabia interconnector.


By Eng. Daisy Karimi Muthamia 
















Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jun 29, 2022

I've seen push for getting a greater speed of electrification on the continent via microgrids, whereas HVDC is in some ways the opposite of that. Do you think there's opportunity for both to prosper in the coming years as more of Africa sees grid development? 

Daisy Muthamia's picture
Daisy Muthamia on Jul 24, 2022

Thank you for your comment Matt. In Kenya and many other African Countries, we are yet to achieve 100% electrification. Kenya is among the countries leading in grid connection in Eastern Africa with approximately 83% connectivity. This has been achieved through a combination of grid extension, microgrids and home solar solutions. These countries still have a long way to go to achieve SDG 7 and all approaches still have a big role to play in achieving this.

Jesse Nyokabi's picture
Jesse Nyokabi on Aug 22, 2022

Spot on, engineer. AC systems usually have lower capital costs, but their cost increases rapidly with distance covered, due to the requirement for volt-ampere reactive support. HVDC transmission provides advantages over AC transmissions such as power flow control which offers stability to the network and power quality. HVDC is key in interconnecting the Five power pools in Africa.

Daisy Muthamia's picture
Thank Daisy for the Post!
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