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Smart grids are energy’s Internet

Smart grid technology can achieve a lot by increasing the efficiency of energy usage, improving distribution reliability, and enabling us to make more of renewable power. With a century of technological leadership under its belt, ABB can call on a broad portfolio of products and systems to make smart grids a reality.

While electricity continues to be the world’s most versatile form of energy, the underlying infrastructure used to generate, transmit, distribute, and use it was conceived and designed more than 100 years ago.

At the same time, electricity demand is growing all the time, while the digital revolution is placing ever-higher demands on the reliability of electrical supply. The role of renewables-based generation is also on the rise as part of efforts to combat climate change, and is something that presents its own special challenges to the traditional grid.

To address these challenges, new solutions will be needed throughout the electricity value chain, primarily in the shape of smart grid technology – to handle multidirectional flows of energy, to provide a customer-driven marketplace for decentralised renewables-based generation and consumers, and to do so in real time safely and reliably.

ABB has been at the forefront of smart grid technological development long before the term was even thought of, and is prioritising three aspects of this technology: leveraging the benefits of decentralised, renewables-based generation; enhancing distribution performance; and improving the energy efficiency of the buildings we live and work in.

ABB is prioritising three aspects of smart grid technology: leveraging the benefits of decentralised, renewables-based generation; enhancing distribution performance; and improving the energy efficiency of buildings.

Improving generation, transmission, and distribution

Decentralised generation based on renewables will play an increasingly important role in complementing centralised generation in the future, and will see small-scale consumers, business, and a larger proportion of industry entering the grid as generators.

ABB is the world’s largest supplier of electrical equipment and services to the wind energy sector and supplies complete electrical systems for wind generation. In addition to wind power generators, variable-speed drives, and low- and mediumvoltage equipment, ABB technology is also used to link wind parks, onshore and offshore, to the grid.

Balancing power will become an increasingly critical issue for utilities as growing amounts of wind and solar energy are added to the supply mix, and ABB can help here as well, through solutions for things such as the bulk storage of energy to compensate for system imbalances and reduce the need to keep expensive reserve capacity on stream.

Ensuring that grids can handle the spread of decentralised generation calls for improvements in the transmission and distribution chain to make it more flexible, secure, reliable, and energy-efficient.

ABB’s zone-based grid concept and the remote control and switching technology behind it – designed to improve the quality of the electricity that is distributed, reduce outages, and enhance grid maintainability – has a lot to offer here. This divides distribution into different zones depending on the criticality of their loads and their susceptibility to supply interruptions.

By sub-dividing zones further and using remote control and smart tools for protecting grid integrity, measuring distribution flows, and controlling them, this approach can benefit urban and rural communities alike and reduce the number of consumers affected by outages, identify problems when they arise with minimum delay, and restore power quicker.

By using this ABB technology, a utility in Finland has been able to improve the reliability of its grid connections by over 30%, for example.

These solar panels on the roof of ABB’s plant in Helsinki help balance out the site’s peak demand and are connected to the national grid.

More energy-efficient buildings

The energy used by buildings in a country like Finland accounts for some 40% of total consumption and 30% of its greenhouse gas emissions. Advanced building automation systems have a critical role to play in making the most of the lighting, air-conditioning, heating, and other infrastructure around us and cutting unnecessary consumption.

ABB building control systems - based on its open i-busĀ® KNX bus technology – allow things like lighting, air-conditioning, heating, alarms, and access control in hotels, airports, shopping centres, and homes to be controlled very precisely. By optimising electricity consumption and inputs, they can also make major inroads into energy consumption, cutting usage by as much as 30% without compromising on comfort or usability. An investment in this kind of technology will pay itself back many times over during its lifetime.

These benefits can also extend down to the family home, where the installation of presencebased sensors can link when lighting goes on and off to how family members use the different rooms in their homes.

On a larger scale, a full-scale ABB building automation system, such as the one supplied to the new Helsinki Music Centre that will be opened in August this year, can enhance the usability and security of much larger and complex spaces, while reducing the amount of energy used for lighting by some 30% compared to a traditional system.

In another case, a new ventilation system based on ABB’s energy-efficient variable-speed drives and Eff1 motors installed at a school in Helsinki has cut electricity consumption by 14% and heating costs by 16%.

“ABB has been at the forefront of smart grid technology development
long before the term was even thought of.”

> Jaana Nikkari
(Published in HighTech Finland 2011)