IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - September/October 2017 - 92

history

Matthew Korytowski

Uno Lamm
the father of HVdc transmission

I

IN THE EARLY 1920s, AUGUST UNO
Lamm had a vision that would ultimately take decades to come to fruition and
change the world forever. Lamm, who is
widely referred to as the father of highvoltage (HV) dc transmission, invented
the first economical way to convert ac
to dc and then back again. His discovery
and development of the HV mercury-arc
ionic valve paved the way for efficient
and practical HV transmission.
Comparable to visionaries Steve Jobs
and Steve Wozniak, who presented the
early Apple I board when they were in
their early 20s, Lamm was 25 when he
was granted a patent for the high-power
mercury-arc ionic valve, not long after
he graduated with a master's degree in
electrical engineering from the Royal
institute of Technology, Stockholm,
Sweden, in 1927. And, like Jobs' and
Wozniak's perseverance with Apple,
Lamm did not let detractors or distractions keep him from inventing and nurturing the technology that one day would
reach people worldwide.
As a young manager at the Swedish
electrical equipment manufacturer Allmanna Svenska Electktriska Aktiebolaget (ASEA), Lamm knew that dc was
the oldest and most dependable form
of electrical generation and transmission. But at the time, published reports
show that Lamm faced considerable
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/MPE.2017.2711759
Date of publication: 17 August 2017

92	

ieee power & energy magazine	

obstacles and skeptics as he developed
the mercury-arc valve. According to a
1981 article in IEEE Power Engineering
Review, "Difficult materials problems
had to be overcome and the first experiments had to be squeezed in between
many other more pressing claims on
the experimental and personnel resources. The physical phenomena did
not lend themselves to mathematical
calculations, and experiments had to be
pursued on a full scale, both as to current and voltage."
Additionally, underwater cables for
long water crossings were needed. Frequency changes, asynchronous systems
with the same nominal frequency, long
interregional ties, remote load centers,
and congested metropolitan areas were
among the many considerations facing
Lamm, according to IEEE Fellow Edward Wilson Kimbark in a 1971 publication. Nonetheless, after his brief
compulsory stint in the Swedish Military, ASEA named Lamm head of its
Rectifier Department in 1929. Lamm
and his ASEA team pressed on to improve the HV mercury-arc ionic valve
for commercial use.
In 1939, Lamm received a patent
for grading electrodes in mercury-arc
valves. The new technology considerably increased the peak inverse voltage
that the valves could withstand, reported Kimbark, making them practical for
transmitting large quantities of electricity over long distances. Impressed
1540-7977/17©2017IEEE

by his leadership and vision of the
emerging HVdc technology, the Swedish State Power Board also gave Lamm
and ASEA access to two power plants
to test the developing valve in 1942.

Overcoming Distractions
An article by K. Wollard in the March
1988 issue of IEEE Spectrum further
illustrates the potential distractions before Lamm, including working on his
doctorate and receiving a Ph.D. degree
from the Royal Institute of Technology
in 1943 (his thesis was "The Transductor, D.C. Pre-Saturated Reactor").
Sweden was politically neutral during
World War II, maintaining trade ties with
Germany and other countries. Lamm
spent the war-time years traveling on behalf of ASEA, Wollard reported, including trips to the patent office in Berlin.
After hundreds of changes to the valve,
a world war, and completion of a doctorate, Lamm's vision was finally put to the
test in 1954 when he rectified ac and inverted dc power for a 100-kV, 20-MW
line from mainland Sweden to the island
of Gotland. It was the world's first longdistance HVdc underwater cable system,
reaching more than 60 mi.
In following years, Lamm's HV
mercury-arc ionic valves were reportedly used in a number of other HVdc
transmission projects, including across
the English Channel between France
and England, between the main islands
of New Zealand, between Sardinia and
september/october 2017



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - September/October 2017

IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - September/October 2017 - Cover1
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IEEE Power & Energy Magazine - September/October 2017 - Cover3
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