Hatch, the Canadian-based global engineering firm, is creating a centre of excellence for high-voltage direct current (HVDC) and flexible AC transmission systems (FACTS) in Winnipeg.
The company’s Winnipeg office is already close to 80 people and company officials say creating a centre of excellence will increase the staff count.
"We see huge potential for this enterprise," said Dan Kell, Hatch’s global lead on HVDC and FACTS projects. "It will grow as much as the industry lets us."
Hatch has been active in Manitoba since 1965 and has been part of the development of most of Manitoba Hydro’s generating stations since then. It currently serves as Manitoba Hydro’s engineer in the Keeyask Generating Station.
The firm chose Winnipeg to locate the centre of excellence because of the deep expertise in HVDC projects that exists here, including the active research work at the University of Manitoba.
Vajira Pathirana, director, power delivery and integration for Western Canada, and a part-time professor at the U of M, said the industry is changing and the centre of excellence will not only help Hatch better serve its clients, but will help the firm stay on top of and ahead of the technology.
"For instance there is lots of solar and wind power coming into the industry that traditionally has been one that featured large generators located far away from cities," he said. "Now the system is changing and there is lots of renewable energy sources being added to the grid. It is completely different than 20 years ago."
Pathirana said the people at Hatch see huge potential in HVDC and FACTS devices bringing or integrating those renewable resources to the power system.
For instance, off-shore wind farms, which are already common in Europe and becoming more so off the coasts of the U.S. may soon need to deploy different distribution technologies if the wind turbines are too far from shore.
Underground cable development may also be a strategy considered for areas that are hit with tornados that regularly damage power lines.
Kell and Pathirana could not provide specifics as to how much investment or how large the centre of excellence will grow the Winnipeg office. Hatch has more than 9,000 staff operating in more than 18 countries and has had experience doing work in more than 150 countries.
Before doing a media interview on Monday afternoon, Kell said he’d already spoken to people on four continents about projects.
The company is currently engaged in refurbishing a 1,400-kilometre transmission line between Mozambique and South Africa.
It is also currently involved in the Maritime Link project involving a new 500 megawatt bipole high-voltage transmission system connecting Newfoundland and Nova Scotia’s power systems and is acting as the owner’s engineer for the Matiari-Lahore HVDC Transmission project, a 878-kilometre-long, 660kV HVDC transmission line in Pakistan.
The company has already set up centres of excellence for other sectors like hard rock mining and potash mining in places like Sudbury and Saskatoon.
Today, the Winnipeg office supports energy, infrastructure, and mining sectors, providing a variety of geotechnical, engineering and project delivery services.
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.