Stephen Oliver Explains the Importance of High Voltage DC Distribution

November 13, 2013
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Stephen Oliver, Vice President at Vicor’s VI Chip division, is presenting a series of webinars about higher voltage DC (HVDC) power distribution. We wanted to find out why he is so passionate about this emerging power technology.

Stephen OliverQ: People have talked about HVDC distribution for some time. Why the excitement now?
A: Two significant catalysts have reignited the century-old debate between Edison and Tesla: system demands (such as size, efficiency and cost of electricity); and recently-introduced technology. Whilst Edison’s preference for DC distribution has been possible, it’s been impractical for most applications. With the availability of new components, using higher DC voltages is now a technology that provides commercial benefits for a wide range of applications, from earth moving equipment to industrial control, datacenters to military applications.

Q: What technical problems have been solved to make this technology a reality?
A: The big problem with HVDC distribution is the large voltage step-down. Traditional DC-DC converter topologies were limited in electrical efficiency and physical bulk. Products such as VI Chip and our new ChiP technology change this, providing very large step-down ratios with outstanding efficiency and power density.

Q: How does this approach change the way systems are designed?
A: Previously systems either used AC to carry power at higher voltages, or simply accepted the I2R losses associated with lower voltage distribution. HVDC removes complexity by eliminating unnecessary duplicated conversion stages (e.g. UPS) and offers a significant increase in overall system power efficiency. In transportation, high voltage buses allow hybrid power systems and energy-saving features, such as the ability to run the air-conditioning in a bulldozer without running the large, inefficient diesel engine.

Q: How quickly are engineers moving to HVDC?
A: Designers are moving quickly. Very quickly! I’m amazed at how rapidly the technology is being adopted, particularly by the leaders in the industries that benefit most from the technology. These companies understand that it gives them a competitive advantage, and there is a real risk that others may get left behind if they wait too long.

Q: What will engineers learn from the webinar series?
A: The first two webinars will explain the history and rationale behind HVDC , and the industry standards recently introduced, before describing how to develop these power systems. In the New Year, I’ll also be presenting webinars that build on this for specific applications: we’re planning sessions to cover military and aerospace; industrial, IT and communications; and heavy plant and military vehicles. We’ll probably also hold a webinar about HVDC in automotive applications.

The webinars are not just for engineers. Whilst the designers who architect the power systems will get the most benefit, I think it’s also important that senior managers attend to understand how quickly power technology is changing the way products are designed.

Q: When will the webinars be held?
A: The first two webinars will held on 5 and 12 December. I will present each of them twice – at 8am EST (1pm GMT, 2pm CET) and then at 1pm EST (10am PST, 6pm GMT) to ensure they’re available at a convenient time for as many engineers, developers and managers based across the various time zones as possible. We’ll also make recordings available on demand so people can catch up if they miss the one or both of the live webinars.

These webinars are free to attend. You can register now for the webinars at 8am EST (2pm CET, 1pm GMT) or 1pm EST (6pm GMT, 10am PST).

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