GE Grid in Motion
In Wales, Power Does the AC/DC Dance
Jun 06, 2017
Matt Cunningham

In the world of electric power, a dance is underway: Demand for electricity is rising while at the same time more energy from sources like solar and wind are being added to the power mix. However, finding ways to meet that heightened electric demand and incorporate these new sources without overhauling the entire infrastructure of the power grid is a dance requiring a deft approach.

Anglesey, in North Wales, is in the middle of that dance. The island, off the west coast of the United Kingdom, is at the forefront of the electric revolution. One major initiative is the government-backed Energy Island project — a center of renewable energy innovation. Anglesey has big plans for the future. With the present levels of connections of Distributed Generation, to the distribution network, Anglesey is facing pressing problems now — its electricity distribution network is near capacity and needs upgrades to meet future demand.


Faced with that quandary, executives at SP Energy Networks, the company that distributes Anglesey’s power to customers, wondered if they could use the island as a test case to upgrade the electric grid with minimal disruption. Could they work with GE, which supplies equipment to SP Energy Networks, to increase the island’s distribution capacity by making better use of existing infrastructure rather than building more substations and installing more underground cables and overhead lines?

SP Energy Networks wanted to find a way to upgrade the system with zero or minimal disruption and environmental impact.

GE presented their tried and tested solution which has been used extensively to electrify railways in central Europe.  The technology used is  also the way large amounts of electricity is transmitted between countries — by converting AC power to DC, which allows the same power lines to carry more electricity.


High voltage DC power lines already transport wholesale electricity over long distances between European countries, cheaply and efficiently. Applying the same concept to the medium voltage lines, that distribute power locally  as GE has done on European railways, would solve the problem.  Installing AC to DC converters, at the mainland Bangor Grid substation and the Llanfair PG substation on Anglesey, will create Europe’s first medium-voltage DC link, improving the quality and security of the electricity travelling across island and will minimize the impact of more renewable energy on the distribution network. It also proves that AC-DC conversion could be a valued part of distribution networks of the future.

Distributing DC electricity through wires, instead of using AC, allows the same wires to carry as much as 41% more power. To facilitate that, GE is installing 12 MV7000 converters at each substation to convert the AC to DC  — an approach used for the power supply on railways in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden.

Explore the challenges and solutions of modernizing the grid

Like any grid solution for the future, the Anglesey project includes a digital component — GE’s  VISOR 2.0 asset management software and Data Historian software will allow Sottish Power to analyze the performance of the network to optimize operations, improve maintenance and reduce the likelihood of outages.


Converting AC to DC will become more important as more renewable energy — also called distributed generation — comes online. “Equipment like this allows distributed generation to support local communities without impacting anything else on the grid. You don’t have to upgrade the infrastructure to provide more power for a community, it can look after itself.


Converting AC to DC is just one of GE’s innovations for the grid of the future. GE is also part of a European Union project called UPGRID to bring the medium- and low-voltage sections of the grid, which utilities use to send around electricity to homes and businesses, into the 21st century.


The dance, of course, also includes a mix of new and innovative ways of using older technologies. GE trailer-mounted turbines, re-engineered jet engines that normally power large aircraft, are being used in Angola and elsewhere to power places that have never had electricity. And, technology is even helping coal burn cleaner to reduce its carbon footprint. In solar, the LV5+ Series Solar Inverter uses silicon carbide power electronics to convert solar power more efficiently, increasing energy production for solar farm operators.


As the dance to use electricity more efficiently progresses, it’s worth remembering the words of GE founder Thomas Edison, “The scope of thrift is limitless.”
















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Matt Cunningham GE Energy Connections
Matt Cunningham

GE Energy Connections Regional Sales leader for UK, Ireland and Northern Europe for grid connected systems.