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Developing Long-Distance Power-Distribution Systems

The vision of installing large subsea production facilities in remote offshore locations is today, simply not feasible. The problem is that subsea power systems are not designed to transmit high-voltage electricity to a production facility or pipeline tieback that may be under thousands of feet of water and 100 miles away from the nearest power plant.

Today’s subsea power-distribution technology is largely based on alternating-current (AC) technology, which, because of its electrical characteristics, can only be efficiently transmitted across a distance of 90 miles. In most cases, however, the effective distance is much less. On average, subsea tiebacks receive power from a platform or vessel located not more than 10 miles away and, in the case of most subsea processing systems, even closer. In an AC-supplied system, the flow of electricity alternates back and forth across the transmission line and is the form of electricity most commonly used in homes and businesses around the world. When long distances are involved, AC power distribution becomes a complicated operation and requires a great amount of attention to detail because of the physics involved with voltage regulation.

The search for an alternative to conventional AC systems has revealed the need for multiple technological advancements, from pressure compensated electrical switches to highly-conductive cables able to deliver power more efficiently. About 5 years ago, “We were looking at going to farther distances with alternating current instead of direct current (DC) because most of the equipment we have right now is AC powered,” said James Pappas, vice president of the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America’s (RPSEA) ultradeepwater program.

He said that, after studying the issue, however, it was determined that using AC power could result in a 35% power loss in a 100-mile-long cable because of resistivity and other factors. Not long after that conclusion was reached, General Electric (GE) approached RPSEA with a concept to transfer all the power to a deepwater field with DC and then use a subsea transformer module located within the field to convert some of the power to AC. With this system, the expected power loss over 100 miles could be as low as 25%. “So, if you have AC components, it can convert power to AC for those components, and if you need DC, then it has DC components,” Pappas said. “It all sounds pretty simple until you want to put it in a package and then set it down in 10,000 ft of salt water.”

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Developing Long-Distance Power-Distribution Systems

Trent Jacobs, JPT Senior Technology Writer

01 February 2014

Volume: 66 | Issue: 2

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