HMS Albion has integrated full electric propulsion

Royal Navy funds study of DC electrical distribution

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is funding GE’s Power Conversion business to study the requirements for adopting DC electrical distribution in Royal Navy ships, which would allow simpler, lighter systems.

The company has been working with the MoD for many years on electric propulsion, which is now incorporated in most of the Royal Navy’s surface warships including the Type 23 frigate, which has operated for 25 years using its quiet, hybrid electric drive. 

The company helped the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary to lead the way in adopting integrated full electric propulsion (IFEP) in the Albion-class landing platform docks and the Wave-class fast fleet tankers. The two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers currently being built also employ GE Power Conversion’s IFEP technology.

DC power technology has already been assessed and proven at low power levels in the Electrical Ship Technology Demonstrator at Whetstone, Leicestershire, which GE Power Conversion runs for the MoD.

The aims of the new MoD-funded project, ‘DC Architecture Enabling Technologies’, are to engineer DC distribution architectures for a variety of platforms and to identify potential equipment common building blocks with the aim of developing a technology roadmap to bring DC technology to maturity.

The MoD is expected to have a DC option to compare to conventional AC distribution for future platforms. GE hopes that the project will lead to the construction of a full-scale technology demonstrator.

The IFEP concept allows the generated electrical power to be used for both propulsion loads and ships’ services and sensors. The MoD is keen to investigate alternatives to AC power distribution on Royal Navy ships because of the widespread use of power electronics in variable-speed DC drives and its desire to increase efficiency and reduce the size and weight of installed electrical systems.

A DC electrical system would typically incorporate a single-voltage distribution bus and localised power conversion to meet consumer requirements, removing the need for complex harmonic conditioning arrangements required of AC distribution systems.

“DC architecture shows great promise,” said Mark Dannatt, director of naval business at GE Power Conversion. “We think it could become a clear contender as the distribution medium for future IFEP systems in a wide range of naval ships.”

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