Hitachi ABB Power Grids Advance the Frontiers of Renewable Energy

By Hubert Yoshida posted 01-21-2021 21:58

Eight years ago, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York and took out their electricity for almost a week, there were still islands of light in areas where they had micro-grids, like the NYU Campus and Hospital. At that time there was talk about the obsolescence of the national power grid which was built 100 years ago with high voltage power transmission lines in favor of distributed micro grids which could be built in neighborhoods, using renewable solar power, and be owned by the “prosumers” at lower cost than the bloated centralized utility companies. Micro-grids were going to disrupt the electrical utility companies like Uber and AirBnB were disrupting the transportation and hotel business.

The idea of a power grid seemed to be the old way of doing business that would be surpassed by new technologies and ways of doing business. Some people may have been surprised when Hitachi bought a majority position in the power grid business from ABB and formed a new company, Hitachi ABB Power Grid Joint Venture. Actually, power grids are a basic tool in tackling the renewable and distributed energy frontiers of the power industry and the need for smart power grids will increase. 

Renewable energy is not consistently available around the clock, solar power needs sunlight and wind power depends on the weather. While businesses may follow the sun, electrical power must move from West to East to lighten our lives. Abundant electrical power, generated by Arctic winds and solar power generated by the Saharan sun could be redistributed to areas of need. Power grids are necessary for the mobility and distribution of renewable energy. There is also an energy trading market that requires the movement of electrical power.  The shift from fossil generation sources towards new and diverse renewables and the massive electrification of final energy use in sectors such as transportation, industrial and buildings are heavily dependent on stronger and more intelligent power networks.

Micro-grids are a very important and rapidly developing solution to power outages. However, Micro-grids are an expensive proposition. Solar panels and home batteries and home generators are great for people who can afford them. But not everybody can afford them and we would be leaving behind a large part of the population who cannot. In order to power good for all of society we need to  have virtual power plants where micro-grids and larger renewable power plants are connected together by a grid to provide more economical and more reliable power for a wider population.

Power grids will have to be more intelligent to be able to optimize the distribution of power from a virtual power plant made from the integration of solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, and fossil fuels. They will also have to be able to adapt to new power usage patterns. If EV commuters all come home at 6 pm and plug in their vehicles to super charge at the same time, the power grids must be ready for the surge in demand. (Currently Hitachi has partnered with UK energy regulator Ofgem, UK Power Networks, Royal Mail, Centrica, Uber and Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks in the world's largest EV trial known as Optimise Prime to track the charging activity of 3000 commercial vehicles. Hitachi Vantara is designing, building and operating the project’s IoT platform. Hitachi is also coordinating the project workstreams and developing solutions to optimise the charging of fleets of EVs at depots, allowing more vehicles to charge within the network’s existing capacity.)

High voltage power lines have been responsible for massive wildfires in California and Australia. Smart power poles with sensor technology to monitor the condition of equipment and weather and shut down portions of the network that may be at risk is needed to help avoid wildfire conditions which have been exacerbated by global warming. Smart power grids built on an IoT platform like Lumada with AI and ML is a perfect combination for the Hitachi ABB power grid.

The electricity grids of the future will need to be able to flexibly bridge time zones, climates and seasons. It will also need to bridge cross border boundaries. Europe is leading the way in cross border interconnects.  Denmark, whose cross-border transmission capacity is more or less equal to its demand, is an exceptional case, which highlights the benefits of a strongly connected power grid. When there is excess wind power generation in Denmark – it can sometimes reach 150-160% of local demand – it exports surplus electricity via subsea cables and overhead lines to its neighbors. Norwegian consumers, for example, can use Danish green electricity while Norway’s domestic production is stored in hydroelectric reserves. When Danish domestic power supplies are insufficient, consumers receive Norwegian hydroelectricity. In the future, a truly integrated and interconnected European power system could use long-distance interconnectors to tap large-scale remote renewable resources – the solar energy of the Sahara and Middle East, the hydro resources of sub-Saharan Africa and the intense winds of the Arctic and Central Asian regions. And at some point, the power networks of China and India could even be connected with Europe or the Americas.

Another data intensive requirement for power grid operators is the aggregation, integration, decentralized energy generation from multiple sources, flexible loading, and storage systems to enable cost-effective participation on the energy markets. Operators need a flexible and scalable platform to implement innovative business models and trade effectively in the energy markets.

It makes perfect sense for Hitachi to be in the power grid business, combining the power grid technologies of Hitachi ABB with the industrial and transportation expertise of Hitachi and Hitachi Vantara’s Lumada platform, Hitachi’s advanced digital solutions, services, and technologies for turning data into insights to drive digital innovation

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