The Queen Mary 2 cruise ship is both exceptional and record-breaking: in dimensions, technology, materials, fittings and fixtures, luxury quotient, performance and price. The liner was built in just less than 18 months and at the time it was delivered to Cunard in December 2003, it was the largest transatlantic liner ever built. It was also the first quadruple propeller passenger ship completed since the SS France, 40 years earlier.
The QM2 is a masterpiece; 345 metres long, 41 metres wide and standing 71 metres above the waterline. Like the Normandie in the 1930s, it bears an Alstom propulsion system, which we developed in partnership with Rolls-Royce. The system consists of four pods – two fixed ones and two that are able to rotate a full 360 degrees, improving manoeuvrability, diminishing noise and vibration levels. An unprecedented piece of floating engineering.
Alsthom’s shipbuilding experience began in the 1930s, when we supplied the first ever turbo-electric propulsion system to the impressive but ill-fated Normandie cruise liner - a ship so large that it needed a specially made dry dock. It was a marvel of sleek design, lavish furnishings and decoration, representing a technical breakthrough with a revolutionary hull shape in addition to our propulsion system.
The Normandie won the Blue Riband on its maiden voyage in 1935, and then again in 1937, but with the outbreak of the Second World War the ship's days were numbered. In 1941 US authorities seized the Normandie with the intention of using it to transport troops, but a welding accident started a fire the next year and the ship capsized.
Read more about Alstom’s shipbuilding pedigree in QM2: Last of the Transatlantic Liners.
Who said engineers have no feeling for poetry? These two lovely names came to symbolise the growth of France’s electrical engineering sector in the second half of the 1970s. Arabelle and Zébulon demonstrate the love we have for our industry and the innovation that makes us so special.
“Arabelle” is the acronym of Alsthom, Rateau and Belfort, and was from the outset considered the world’s most powerful turbine. Arabelle incorporated our new technology, and was chosen by EDF as the sole turbine for use in its second-generation nuclear power stations in the 1980s and 1990s. She also has a little sister named Mirabelle.
Zébulon is the French name for Zebedee, and is taken from the 1960s TV series "The Magic Roundabout". It was the nickname we gave to our experimental electric power car that paved the way for the first TGV*, although Zébulon was actually the electric version of the initial “Z” project – a turbotrain whose power cars were equipped with gas turbines.
*TGVTM is an SNCF trademark
EDF awarded us a much-coveted contract in 2007, to supply conventional island equipment for Flamanville 3. This was the first French nuclear power plant to be equipped with the EPR reactor so was a major project for us.
At the core of the island stands the Arabelle steam turbine, the most powerful ever made. Arabelle has four modules of seven metres in diameter, weighs 3,000 tonnes and generates 1,750 MW. The turbo-generator unit was manufactured at the pillar of our nuclear business: Belfort, France. Our Arabelle has enjoyed continued success, going on to be exported to China, the United States and South Africa for similar projects.
Economic powers in Europe and Asia were severely disrupted by the Second World War, with the exception of the US. The country passed from the Great Depression of the 1930s into the war a decade later, emerging from it accounting for half of aggregate global GDP.
Technological advances introduced by the US in the 1950s brought a consumer society to Europe, which then enjoyed a long period of growth it had never experienced before. Alsthom was instrumental in French post-war recovery, due to our contribution to the country's reconstruction programme and subsequent expansion of rail and energy sectors, particularly nuclear power. We also began to penetrate foreign markets, but the merger with CGE several years later – intended to further this effort – deprived Alsthom of its independence for a long time. We had helped rebuild our homeland, but it was at the expense of our freedom.
When Patrick Kron took the top job at Alstom in 2002, a cultural revolution was needed. A succession of buyouts of other companies had been carried out without the necessary organisational adjustments to cope with the Group's doubling in size. Alstom’s bankers were calling for everything to be sold, and the company found itself far behind competitors in the turbine sector, in particular.
It was time for drastic measures. Over the next few years, the company had to sacrifice 35,000 employees, its industrial turbine business, its Transmission and Distribution arm, all property assets and three quarters of the executive committee. Even then, Alstom needed a substantial injection of funds from the French government to ensure operational costs could be met to deliver on the order book.
Ultimately, through two rounds of state support, a lengthy series of cuts and a concentrated effort to focus on the company’s core business, Alstom survived bankruptcy, saving more than 100,000 jobs. Under Patrick Kron’s leadership, the Group has managed to turn its fortunes around and is, today, a world leader in a number of its markets.
Alstom’s future as an independent financial entity was by no means certain during its first solo financial year. Sensitive economic climates buffeted the company, which at the time comprised six divisions – Energy, Transmission & Distribution, Transport, Industry, Marine and Contracting. The Group looked unlikely to soar very high, but a good year in Energy, Transport and Marine offset slower performance in other areas. Nevertheless, even the slower markets saw major acquisitions such as that of ER Equipamentos Elétricos in Brazil, strengthening our presence in the Americas.
Our Transport division proved especially successful in 1998 and 1999, in underground systems, railway trains, trams, locomotives, propulsion and signalling systems, maintenance and services. This success was worldwide, with exports of the Coradia intercity to the UK; the Arlanda Express shuttle to Sweden; urban transport equipment to China and the Metropolis underground train debuting in Singapore, Warsaw and Shanghai.
The company’s overall performance gave stock markets the signal they needed that Alstom was destined to become a world leader.
In the swinging 60s, car and air travel were enjoying a boom, so rail transport hit back with tracks that were ready for high speeds. Japan’s Shinkansen, followed by France’s TGV* and the German ICE were the first to compete with planes and cars, and the stakes as well as the speeds were very high.
Having been a part of TGV* (‘Très Grande Vitesse’ – very high speed) projects as the main supplier of SNCF, in 2008 we launched our own very high speed project: the Automotrice à Grande Vitesse, or AGV. Capable of travelling over 1,000 kilometres in just three hours, the AGV trains can reach commercial speeds of 360 km/h – getting passengers to where they’re going in a fraction of the time it would have taken them before.
We’re leading the field when it comes to clean power generation, using post-combustion technology and oxy-combustion to improve efficiency and reduce emissions by more than 15%. Our technology has enabled us to build more efficient power stations for years, but the next step toward cleaner power is to capture and store the emissions released, as well as reduce them.
At the moment we’re in close partnership with power and oil companies in some ten pilot projects to do just that, and are currently testing carbon capture technologies so we can make them commercially available in Europe and the US by 2015.
And we’ve already been successful:
We’re very proud to be innovating clean power in such a significant way.
We realised a long time ago that renewable energy sources are an essential element of global power for the 21st century, and for many years we’ve been providing technologies to help us move toward a more sustainable future.
We’ve over a century of experience in the hydro power industry. In fact, Alstom turbines and generators alone represent more than 25% of the total hydro power capacity in the world!
Wind power has always had tremendous potential, and has now come of age. For 30 years we’ve been a global supplier of all-round wind power solutions.
Geothermal is one of the most renewable and reliable energy sources available. We pioneered this power for commercial use back in the 1950s using resources in New Zealand, and we’re still a global leader today.
Properly harnessed, tidal and wave energy could supply the entire world with a sustainable source of power. We are hard at work developing the technologies of this next frontier in power generation.
The use of biomass offers the promise of generating energy at greatly reduced CO2 emissions. We’ve been retrofitting older coal and oil-fuelled power plants with biomass co-firing systems for nearly two decades and are market leaders in dedicated biomass co-firing and installations.
Solar power is a relatively young and growing industry, and one we think is worth investing in. We decided to focus on concentrated solar power (CSP) because of its potential for large-scale, efficient power generation. Unlike photovoltaic solar power, CSP can accommodate power storage capacity so people can have power long after sundown or on cloudy days.
Alstom’s strength is in its ability to adapt to changing environmental and economic challenges. To better anticipate this, in July 2011 Alstom Power split into two sectors: Alstom Thermal Power and Alstom Renewable Power. These two new sectors joined Alstom Grid and Alstom Transport, and enabled all four sectors to focus on their areas of expertise more efficiently.
The signature C830 Metropolis trainsets began rolling on Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit system in 1998, the first year Alstom became financially independent—a foreshadowing of the greatness to come.
Singapore’s Circle Line was a turnkey project that allowed our rail expertise to shine: 33 km long, the line was the world’s longest underground metro and had the world’s longest underground depot. But more significantly, the Circle Line was the first subway line to have radio Communication-based Train Control, therefore becoming the world’s longest driverless subway line.
Alstom’s involvement in the rail transport industry has produced several world rail speed records.
We achieved our very first record in 1955, in partnership with the MTE consortium, for the CC 7107 locomotive, reaching speeds in excess of 320.6 km/h.
We broke that record again on 26 February 1981, in partnership with SNCF, for the first deployed TGV*, the TGV Sud-Est running from Paris to Lyon at 380 km/h.
By 18 May 1990, we had sufficiently developed our very high-speed train technology with our main customer and partner, SNCF, sufficiently to achieve a major breakthrough with the TGV Atlantique, reaching a new world record of 515.3 km/h.
Finally, on 3 April 2007, we set the last world rail speed record of 574.8 km/h with theV-150 trainset built just for this occasion. The train used the bodyshell of an out-of-service TGV Duplex, but was equipped with all the components that would power our latest in very high speed trains: the AGV.
Convinced that the very high-speed rail market was destined to expand and diversify, Alstom began work on a fourth-generation very high-speed train in 1998. For this project, we did not have a contract with the SNCF, France’s national rail company, as we had for the TGV*, but were working on our own and with our own money—a first in the railway industry.
Three years later, Elisa, an early prototype with a distributed traction system built on a TGV chassis, was tested to confirm various design features. Now that the future train’s key technical characteristics had been determined, the project to develop the new Alstom Automotrice à Grande Vitesse (AGV) very high-speed train was launched in 2004.
The prototype train was unveiled at the Eurailspeed Show in Milan, Italy, in November 2005, and six months later the design was finalised. From October 2006 to February 2007, the first sub-assemblies and the first carriage was built. At the same time, two crucial motor bogies, which form the core of the AGV’s traction system, were built and tested in record time and delivered to the La Rochelle plant to equip the V150 trainset that would break the world rail speed record on 3 April, 2007. A year earlier those bogies had been nothing more than digital designs in a computer.
Above all other technologies, using sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) to extinguish and insulate the arc has led to the greatest advances in circuit breaker technology in terms of interrupting capacities, reduced energy requirement, reduced maintenance and increased reliability. It has permitted the development of transmission systems to higher voltages and short circuit levels.
Alstom Grid's legacy companies pioneered the use of the arc energy to produce a range of highly efficient, low-energy circuit breakers with spring mechanisms, as well as producing single- and two-break designs at 300 and 420 kV. The SF6 circuit breaker weighs only 15% of its predecessor 300 kV air-blast circuit breaker. The first application of SF6 in switchgear can be traced back to the 1950s. We installed the first 245 kV gas insulated substation (GIS) in 1966 at Vaise in France.
Today’s high voltage circuit breaker forms the vital link in the control and protection of high voltage transmission systems. Toward the end of the 19th century, the highest voltages were around 15 kV, and simple knife switches were sufficient to protect short circuit currents. But with increasing voltages, they soon reached their limit, and scientists began to study the behaviour and properties of arcs in relation to circuit breaking. This led to the development of the first circuit breakers aimed at some form of arc extinction.
Over the last century, the electrical industry saw many changes in its high voltage product technology, driven by both economic needs and that of the fast-moving worldwide transmission systems. Circuit breakers have been developed, tested, built and installed using air, water, oil, compressed air, vacuum and SF6. The current generation of circuit breakers is more compact and requires almost zero maintenance compared to earlier technologies.
There are now environmental pressures to find alternatives to SF6 while transmission systems extend to 1,200 kV. Electronic circuit breakers based on power electronic technology is currently in the works.
Alstom Grid and its predecessor companies have always been at the forefront of these developments.
The roots of high voltage (HV) encapsulated substations go back to the metal enclosed concept of the 1920s when oil was used as the insulating medium. Compressed air and different gases were the focus of much research work, and the first Freon-based solution at 33 kV appeared in 1936.
Developments in industrial processes, chemistry and physics led the switchgear industry towards the end of the 20th century to the use of SF6 for arc extinguishing and insulation as the main gas-insulated substation (GIS) technology.
In fact, one of our parent companies was amongst the kick-starters of GIS development history: Delle-Alsthom France started GIS development in 1958 and by 1966-1967 delivered a world first with its "Fluobloc” at 245 kV in several Paris substations, demonstrating the benefits of underground GIS to supply bulk power close to city users. Later achievements in higher voltage ranges include delivery of the first 420 kV substations in 1976 and 550 kV in 1977. Another “world first” was the completion of AEP’s 800 kV GIS in Joshua Falls in 1979.
As GIS systems developed and their extensive use in HV networks grew, Alstom Grid became the manufacturer of complete GIS ranges of 72.5-800 kV.
Clearly, the adoption of SF6 as an insulation medium boosted the development of smaller switchgear requiring less operating energy and reduced materials and resources, leading to higher performance. So far 420 kV, 63 kA with a single break is possible with the spring mechanism.
The 20th century saw a huge increase in demand for electric power, meaning more generation, more transmission and considerably higher voltages: first to 220 kV then to 400 kV by the 1950s, while the 1960s witnessed the first 800 kV networks. This rapid development was only possible thanks to improvements in transformer technology, design, manufacturing and materials. In particular, insulating materials – paper, pressboard, oil, silicon steel – made great advances. In fact, transformer development helped to boost the steel, paper and oil industries.
As transformer pioneers, Alstom Grid and its ancestor companies contributed patents and technological breakthroughs, such as the interleaved disc winding for greater reliability, barrier shielding, and the first 1,050 kV transformer for extra-high voltage test lines in the 1960s. We showcased some of the world’s largest power transformers, and produced some of the most complex and advanced special transformers and reactors (including quadrature boosters, series and shunt reactors and transformers for industrial and traction applications).
As large emerging economies expand or strengthen their networks, so the need to transmit high voltage direct current (HVDC) power over long distances increases. This has meant investing in the development and production of new, more powerful transformers for DC networks. Since delivering HVDC converter transformers for the France-UK HVDC link in 1981, Alstom Grid has been in the vanguard of this evolution, developing transformer technology to match the specifics of DC current.