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ABB engineering protects power plant from solar storms

ABB Automation Technologies : 02 March, 2007  (New Product)
ABB has delivered a giant three-limbed transformer for a nuclear power plant in Sweden that is frequently subject to blackout-inducing solar flares.
The three-phase 825 MVA, 420/21 kV generator step-up transformer contains one of the largest and heaviest transformer cores that ABB has ever built.

Equipped with three limbs instead of the usual five, the transformer is designed to improve availability and protect the Oskarshamn 2 nuclear power plant in Sweden from solar flares or solar storms, known more properly as geomagnetic induced currents.

Solar flares unleash magnetic storms that hit the earth’s magnetic field and create geomagnetic currents that can enter power lines and the neutral point of transformers. GICs frequently lead to severely damaged transformers and voltage collapse at a cost of millions of dollars per hour in lost revenues and damaged assets.

Strongest GIC ever
The most powerful GIC ever recorded at a power plant struck Oskarshamn in 2000, and in 2003 another GIC tripped several power lines and transformers all over the country and caused a blackout affecting 50,000 consumers.

To prevent the same thing from happening again, Oskarshamn, which is jointly owned by E.ON and Fortum, asked ABB to design an 825 MVA transformer that “would be immune to solar storms.”

Transformers larger than 200-300 MVA are usually built with five limbs, but for Oskarshamn 2, ABB took on the significantly more complex task of making one with three limbs. Three-limbed transformers are the most effective protection available against GICs. The challenge for ABB lay in the sheer size and rating of the transformer core.

44,000 steel plates
The giant core consists of 44,000 steel plates that stretch electrical engineering to its limits. Each plate is up to one meter wide and a mere 0.27 millimeters thick, which makes them difficult to handle. They are placed one on top of the other in two stacks, a process that requires great skill and precision. The resultant core weighs about 200 tons.

ABB installed and commissioned the transformer, ready for the next wave of solar activity to hit the earth. Some regions of the world are more prone to GICs than others. Countries that are particularly vulnerable include Sweden, Finland and Norway, Canada and the United States, China and South Africa.

The most devastating GIC occurred in Canada in 1989. The entire province of Quebec was blacked out for nine hours. More than six million consumers were affected and the cost to utilities was estimated at $15.4 million.
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