High Voltage Laboratory gets major investment in new facilities

The University of Manchester has just been awarded £1.85m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for new high voltage test equipment that will support research and industrial engagement in the areas of electrical engineering and material science. The equipment will be installed in our High Voltage Laboratory, which in 2020 will form part of the University’s brand new £350m Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD).

Artist’s impression of the new HV lab on the MECD site

‌As electricity demand increases and more electricity is generated from low carbon sources (such as nuclear, wind, solar and marine), the UK’s transmission system requires change. Estimates suggest it may need to carry a peak power four times higher in the future than that carried today, and the electricity that flows through it will become more intermittent as wind and solar power are subject to variable weather conditions.

Our new laboratory equipment will enable academics to test power system components used on the transmission system, such as transformers and overhead line insulators. It will also develop an improved electricity system that is both cost-effective and has minimal impact on the environment (whether this be measured in terms of visual impact, noise, ability to recycle at end-of-life or a whole range of other factors).

The new investment will provide the capability for our researchers to generate high voltages and currents - allowing them to test equipment in polluted conditions - and a large test chamber, which will enable work in temperature ranges from -30 to up to 80℃.

Researchers will be able to apply over 800,000V continuously to objects, and at times up to 1.6 million volts to simulate the impact of lightning, and test equipment when water is sprayed on to surfaces in a way that replicates rainfall. When the equipment moves to the new MECD site, the specialist laboratory will operate 'quietly' and allow researchers to measure extremely small electromagnetic signals associated with failures in insulation systems.

As Manchester hosts complementary technology and innovation centres, we are in a prime position to realise the benefits that our interdisciplinary research brings. There are many opportunities associated with advanced materials that allow us to examine new ways to manufacture and operate transformers, overhead lines, cables and circuit breakers. Together with other facilities, including those of the Henry Royce Institute and the University’s National Graphene Institute, we will have the capability to translate underpinning materials science to the scale of full-size transmission system equipment.

The new university facilities will support academics as they continue to develop and deliver new technologies, such as transformers that use greener and safer insulating oils and overhead lines that can operate at reduced height and with quieter conductors. Our experts will also work closely with National Grid, which is developing a substation test environment in North Wales where assets associated with electricity networks can be tested off-grid, 24 hours, seven days a week. 

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