Quick Take: Not only can old dogs learn new tricks. They can invent them. Usually our Discovery Showcase pieces highlight breakthroughs from small startups or government research labs. This time, however, we’re putting the spotlight on new technology from ABB, the 129-year-old industrial giant headquartered in Switzerland. The firm claims to have invented a circuit breaker for high voltage direct current (HVDC). If so, then HVDC just became a much more viable alternative for the long-distance transfer of large amounts of power. – By Jesse Berst

ABB’s super fast high voltage direct current (HVDC) circuit breaker will, the company says, open the doors to more efficient and reliable electrical supply systems and the efficient integration of renewable energy. It combines extremely fast mechanics and power electronics that will be able to interrupt power flows “equal to the output of a large power station within five milliseconds – 30 times faster than the blink of a human eye.”

DC electric grids also will upgrade reliability and capabilities of existing AC networks. ABB is now talking to electric utilities to come up with pilot projects for its new circuit breaker.

The R&D on the development has been a “flagship project” for ABB, which says HVDC is needed for moving power over long distances from hydropower plants, offshore wind farms, the development of innovative solar projects and interconnecting different power networks. ABB says its DC breaker is a major step in the evolution of DC grids.

“ABB has written a new chapter in the history of electrical engineering. This historical breakthrough will make it possible to build the grid of the future,” said Joe Hogan, ABB CEO. “Overlay DC grids will be able to interconnect countries and continents, balance loads and reinforce AC transmission networks.”

Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com, the industry’s oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.