Can technical solutions really save the world? Maybe. But if we're talking about ABB's automation and power technologies, then they sure can go a long way to helping the planet and its people.
This was the unifying theme developed by Dr. Peter Terwiesch, ABB's chief technical officer, who introduced many of the company's groundbreaking solutions and strategies in his presentation, "ABB's Automation and Power Technologies," on the second day of ABB Automaton and Power World 2010 at the George R. Brown Convention Center this week in Houston.
"The world population is going to increase to 9.5 or 10 billion by 2050, and economic development means that population's wealth is growing too," explained Terwiesch. "At the same time, we must also reduce energy consumption and emissions. The scientific consensus is that the world needs us to reduce emissions by about 50% to contain climate change, while energy consumption doubles. Basically, we need to 'decarbonize' by a factor of four."
In addition, Terwiesch added, electrical systems worldwide are facing significant challenges, such as increasing demand, growing demand for reliability and the need to cut carbon dioxide emissions. As a result, regulation will be crucial in promoting adoption. For example, electricity consumption is growing at twice the rate of overall energy, with the highest growth rates in India and China. Also, as economies digitize their data, the cost of non-performance of electrical systems is increasing too. Meanwhile, more than 70% of problems occur in distribution. Finally, electricity generation is the highest and fastest-rising source of CO2 emissions, again led by India and China.
Not surprisingly, renewable energy sources are fast-growing market opportunities, according to Terwiesch. In fact, he reported that the global wind power market is expected to grow 17% per year, while the global photovoltaic (PV) market is expected to grow by 31% per year.
To help spur these renewable efforts, he added that ABB's recently launched a three-phase solar inverter for PV plants from 100 kW up to multiple megawatts. This equipment is already in use at the Totana PV solar plant in Spain, which produces 2.2 gigawatt hours per year and displaces 2,200 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. ABB also provided DC and AC cabinets, transformers, switchgears, equipment housing and system optimization.
"The other challenge with renewables is getting them connected and integrated into the grid," explained Terwiesch. "Renewable energy sources often need to bridge some significant distances, and then they also have intermittency issues that need to be addressed."
For example, ABB is now pioneering two renewable power projects to help reduce emissions.
Presently underway, the company is helping to build the 2,071-kilometer Xiangjiaba-to-Shanghai power link, which will be the world's longest, highest-capacity power link. It's using ultrahigh-voltage DC technology to deliver 6,400 MW of hydropower to 31 million customers in the Shanghai area.
Secondly, ABB just completed its work on the BorWin 1 wind farm in the North Sea near Germany. Too far out to be seen from shore, it's reported to be the world's most remote wind farm. It has 400 megawatts (MW) of capacity and is delivering power via 200 kilometers of undersea and underground cable.
Because of the location and intermittency issues of renewables, Terwiesch added that many grids will need to be "firmed up" with reactive power control and storage solutions, such as ABB's just-launched SVC Light with Energy Storage. Its storage system is based on a series connection of Li-Ion battery modules, and it has integrated safety, protection and control functions. SVC Light is rated up to about ±100 MVA (million volt-amperes), and its active power capability is typically 5 MW to 50 MW for 5 minutes to 60 minutes. It also enables short-term and emergency power needs while enabling integration of renewable power sources into weak electrical networks.
"SVC Light with Energy Storage combines active and reactive power control for grids that would be pretty weak otherwise," added Terwiesch. "I think the smart grid is really an evolution rather than a revolution. The traditional grid is distribution only. However, the smart grid is distribution and collection, so we need good control and automation to make it work. This includes load scheduling, islanding of control, reconnection and auto-synchronization, and demand response."