Hitachi ABB’s Power Grids are enabling a more sustainable future by helping to deliver carbon-neutral energy to wherever it’s needed
Two decades ago, the main challenge was attracting attention to sustainable power. Only a few enthusiasts attended the rare sessions for non-traditional energy sources at conferences. But all that has changed.
“Now sustainable energy is the norm for power generation – people see what was started a long time ago. The industry has come up with sustainable generation solutions based on wind and solar. These are not only green, but also cheaper than the traditional generation technologies based on thermal power,” says Adrian Timbus, head of portfolio and strategic marketing at Hitachi ABB Power Grids, a joint venture between Japanese technology leader Hitachi and ABB, formed in July 2020. Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ solutions help customers overcome the power grid challenges that are part of the transition to a carbon-neutral energy future.
A new challenge is keeping the momentum going with a fresh cohort of engineers – a challenge that is taking on ever more importance as electrification accelerates. “We need to build a pipeline of new, talented people to become the next generation to support the power sector, because otherwise it won’t live up to its long-term ambitions,” he says.
For that, the company and the wider industry need to encourage the top tech talent into the sector. “Energy really has become very exciting; it is about more than just wires and electrons. Transporting electricity is about data science and material science – and the vision for the energy systems of the future,” Timbus says. Almost all new power solutions rely heavily on power electronics and software technologies. On the power electronics side, there is an opportunity to explore new materials to be used for further improving reliability and efficiency. At the same time, software and digital capabilities have become the central intelligence of the solution, making them a very modern and flexible asset for future energy systems. The challenges are to combine embedded software with high-level cloud-based analytics and artificial intelligence technologies.
High voltage, direct current (HVDC), is one such solution. It has its root in technology the company pioneered many years ago – initially with a project connecting Gotland island to the Swedish mainland grid – but HVDC has continued to evolve, and today is the most efficient and cost-effective solution for transferring large amounts of power over long distances. It is also a very flexible power control technology, utilising high-power semiconductors to transform AC to DC, and sophisticated software and control logics to regulate power flows.
The controllability of power and the scalability of the solution makes HVDC appealing to the renewables sector, too. “If we look at the UK as an example, all the wind farms built around its shores need to transmit power to the consumer,” Timbus explains. “And with HVDC technology, we are able to bring that power very efficiently from the generation source to where it is needed.”
Hitachi ABB Power Grids announced in September 2020 that HVDC would be used to link Shetland to the rest of the UK grid, enabling the islands to fully decarbonise their energy use and to share surplus wind power with mainland Scotland. “Offshore wind has so far used point-to-point links. However, a more sophisticated and interconnected offshore power grid is needed to meet our future energy needs, as electricity will increasingly become the backbone of the future energy systems,” Timbus adds.
The offshore grid architecture needs to be co-ordinated with onshore power system development to ensure the renewable power reaches consumers. This kind of co-ordination extends between countries as well as between continents, with a broader vision of bringing sustainable and affordable electricity to where it is needed.
Hitachi ABB Power Grids also helps build interconnections between national grids. For example, IFA2 will link the UK to France, enabling those countries to trade and to balance clean energy. In the first year of operation, the project is expected to prevent 1.2 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. A similar link is currently under construction between the UK and Norway, providing an opportunity for the sharing of clean renewable energy and supporting climate change targets.
In the longer-term, Timbus sees the possibility of even greater interconnection, with solar and wind energy shared globally, in an “interconnected power grid” concept. “The same way we have the internet today, accessing information from anywhere in the world, we could think of exporting power from renewable-rich regions to every place on the globe,” he says.
That’s on the supply side, but these technologies are now also finding their place in emerging applications such as electric vehicle charging, as Hitachi ABB Power Grids help carbon-heavy sectors switch to electricity. “We are working with the utilities to produce and deliver carbon-neutral energy. We are also engaging more and more with sectors – such as transportation, industry and construction – that use that power, helping them decarbonise their footprint and operations,” Timbus says.
Grid-eMotion Fleet is a fast-charging system for electric buses, trucks and fleets of cars that can be used in parking lots, bus depots, truck terminals, shopping malls and airports. “It’s not for two or three vehicles, but for many,” Timbus says. “We are able to bring a large amount of power to such locations to enable electrification and speed up decarbonisation.”
That will become increasingly vital as mobility shifts to electric propulsion, and with petrol and diesel vehicles banned from sale in the UK by 2030. “We are able to fulfil the power demands of large numbers of vehicles in the same area – all without threatening the stability, security and reliability of power grids,” Timbus says.
The shift to sustainable energy is happening fast, and careers in the industry offer fulfilling and exciting work. But it remains difficult to draw tech talents away from other appealing sectors such as IT. “Developing apps for mobile platforms, which may or may not be used — a lot of people are attracted by that,” says Timbus. “We need to make sure talented young engineers understand that they can push the technological boundaries in the energy sector, too – that working in this sector offers an opportunity to help redefine our energy future”.
To achieve that, he believes the industry needs to better promote its potential for a sustainable energy future, highlighting the cutting-edge technologies being developed so that would-be energy pioneers understand how they can contribute to a carbon-neutral future. Change is needed at all levels, to not only attract talented candidates, but also to empower them to challenge the status quo and to come up with innovations that will benefit everyone.
“This industry used to be more conservative” says Timbus. “Today, it is dynamic and there is great potential to develop innovative solutions, to think differently and to really have an impact on our world of tomorrow.”
It’s a big challenge, but the payoff could be huge. “If we are able, through our vision, our actions, our technology and our solutions, to take that wind and solar power and use the right infrastructure to get it to the consumption point, then we will be able to create a carbon-neutral energy sector first of all, and a carbon-neutral economy overall,” says Timbus. “That is our ambition.”
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