Making my way to the “palace”

It’s a splendid, sunny morning in June as I make my way from my hotel, past the famous palace of “Sun King” Louis XIV, to the Palais des Congrès in Versailles. Every four years since 1984, this location at the gates of Paris has been the venue for the Jicable, which has grown to become the world’s biggest conference about cables.

It focuses on power transmission cables – from thin to thick, low to high voltage, direct to alternating current. Experts in the field give lectures on notable projects or new developments, while exhibitors showcase their latest products or services in the foyer. This is where the “cable world” meets periodically, and this year’s event is being attended by a record 800 delegates from 45 countries.

As I cross the large square in front of the famous palace, my mind turns to a few thoughts about my career. Starting out in the cable industry as a junior engineer nearly 20 years ago, taking part in a conference like this seemed simply unattainable. Would I ever get to be here? And what would I even present that could be of interest? The past two decades have given me the answer.

From many trade press articles and publications, I was familiar with quite a few of the experts attending such conferences, some of whom I had then subsequently met in person as part of projects. Today, 25 June 2019, is my second time giving a talk at the Jicable as a Fichtner employee. Four years ago, I had been here to speak about the implementation of a 380 kV cable connection for the ‘Niehl 3’ CCGT plant in Cologne. Proud? You bet! But I have to concentrate! I step into the conference building filled with a mixture of anticipation and healthy nervousness.

The cable session

The auditorium for my session is on the first floor of the vintage-looking Palais des Congrès in Rue de la Chancellerie, the “golden district” of Versailles. In actual fact, however, the building was only inaugurated in 1967 on the site of what used to be a variety theater. Wood paneling on the ceilings and walls affords the interior something of an historic, museum-like character……quite the contrast to the sober, technical nature of the engineering topics at hand.

Stage fright inevitably takes hold of me as I make my entrance, but it is outweighed by my anticipation. Looking around the auditorium, I recognize many faces I’ve become acquainted with over the years in the cable industry, as well as colleagues from current ongoing projects. And then there’s the typical “conference audience”: relaxed and friendly as ever. That gives me courage. As the session leader, a Korean professor, introduces me and reads out a short version of my CV, I run through the main points of my presentation one last time.

A few words on the tech

As part of the ‘SuedLink’ project, which aims to build two direct-current corridors running north to south all the way through Germany, the plan is to use 525 kV cables coated in an oil-free – and therefore much more environmentally friendly – plastic insulation. These also tend to be referred to as “XLPE cables”, with XLPE standing for cross-linked polyethylene. To connect the cables to the converter stations, which convert the alternating current into direct current or vice versa, the electrical design parameters on both sides of this interface must be carefully tuned to each other. Such design parameters include, for example, certain threshold values for voltage and current as well as relatively complicated transient voltage characteristics. Only by adhering to these values can a stable and efficient overall system be ensured in all operating conditions.

To achieve this, we in the project team have collaborated with Fichtner’s client ‘TransnetBW’ in Stuttgart to develop a method that enables cable and converter manufacturers to systemize the voltage and current characteristics ascertained by us in simulations. Since we were breaking new ground with this approach, we decided to release a joint publication on the project at the end of 2018. I was then chosen to give the related presentation at this year’s Jicable conference.

My presentation lasted about 15 minutes and was held in English. The upshot from it was a recommendation to planners and developers of such systems to take a structured approach and actively oversee and steer the coordination process. This could prevent or at least minimize potential discrepancies along with any resulting contractual problems for the clients involved.

All’s well that ends well – the response

Then it’s all over, and I can feel my tension subsiding. Based on the appreciative applause, I believe that I succeeded in sparking an interest in the importance of the issue. Follow-up questions were posed by the audience, about issues like the current state of standardization in this field, which I was able to answer confidently. All in all, I exit the podium feeling very satisfied despite knowing that much work still lies ahead to actually implement what has been presented here in our ‘SuedLink’ project in the way we imagined.

Throughout the rest of the day, I am repeatedly approached about my presentation, not only by people I already know but also by other visitors. I even end up making one or two new business contacts. Let’s see where they might lead. I’m obviously more than happy to take all this encouragement and positive feedback home with me.

The day turns out to be a very relaxed occasion after all, and it ends with a wander around the foyer along with visits to a few exhibition stands. Exhausted but satisfied, I make my way back to the hotel in the evening, again passing by the Palace of Versailles.

And the Sun King smiles on me yet again …