The term explosive growth understates Vietnam’s economic reality. The size of the country’s GDP grew 18 times over the last two decades, generating new wealth as well as severe growing pains. Just like new muscle craves fresh supply of blood, Vietnam’s booming economy needs more electricity, and fast.
Building new power transmission lines involves capital and takes time. Engineers from GE Digital Energy have found a way to cut both. “We help utilities use their existing infrastructure to bring more power where they need it,” says GE Energy’s Jim Roedel. “It’s typically cheaper and faster than building new lines and GE knows how to do it well.”
Ahoy Vietnam: “Imagine that the transmission line is a river,” says GE Energy’s Jim Roedel. GE power technology removes “boulders from the path” of the flow and brings electricity where it is needed.
Roedel is not being cheeky. GE built many of the world’s first power plants and electrical grids some 130 years ago, and started boosting transmission line capacity in New York in 1928. It knows how power flows.
“Imagine that the transmission line is a river,” Roedel says. “As the water moves from the spring, boulders in the river bed impede the flow. Our technology, called series compensation, allows you to remove the boulders from the path, letting more water to move more efficiently to its intended destination.”
The project in Vietnam will cover a 300-mile stretch of a high-voltage “backbone” power line that connects power plants in the north with the south of the country. The technology, essentially strategically placed banks of GE capacitors and comprehensive protection and control systems, will allow the Vietnamese national utility to transmit power across the country more efficiently. Rather than building new power plants to meet electricity demand that varies from region to region, the increased electricity flow will allow the state utility to efficiently distribute power across the grid from existing power stations.
The upgraded grid will transmit up to an additional 800 megawatts to the south when the project is finished in 2013. Roedel says that construction will take just over one year to complete, which is twice as fast as building a new line.
Currently there are more than 200 such GE installations around the world, but the technology also comes in handy outside rapidly developing markets. For example, utilities in California, Texas, and Washington State have used it to boost their grid capacity and transmit power generated by new wind farms, solar plants, and other sources of renewable energy.