ABB Automation & Power World 2010 Shines in Houston

By Kathleen Davis, Senior Editor

ABB held its annual users conference, Automation & Power World, May 18-21 in Houston. It included networking opportunities, workshops, training and an exhibit floor. More than 4,000 participated in 2010, exceeding 2009’s attendance by 30 percent, according to ABB.


Keynote and ABB News


Automation & Power World began with a keynote session Tuesday, May 18 in the George R. Brown Convention Center grand ballroom. Mark Taft, ABB regional business unit manager, opened the keynote. He said that Automation & Power World is his favorite week of the year because he is surrounded by customers and the environment is conducive to sharing ideas.

ABB CEO Joe Hogan followed and shared his ideas about the market, world recession and ABB’s place in the power and automation industries. He focused on economic recovery and climate change. Energy efficiency and renewables, he said, are set to deliver three-fourths of emissions reductions in the immediate future.

“Energy efficiency is the real key for sustainability both in the short and long term,” Hogan said.

He pointed out smart grid’s growing importance in this area and renewables integration. ABB plans on being innovative and forward-thinking in the power arena, including with smart grid, Hogan said.

One forward-thinking ABB idea occurred before Automation & Power World: ABB’s May 5 Ventyx acquisition. During a conference briefing, ABB executives discussed the positives of that acquisition, including making ABB a world leader in utility software.

“With Ventyx, we get a glue that allows us to follow the electron ” and optimize that value chain,” said Enrique Santacana, ABB North America president and CEO.

ABB revealed its second forward-thinking idea during Tuesday morning’s briefing. The company will build a new $90 million, high-voltage cable factory in the U.S. It will be open in 2012.

“We see a strong demand growth in this type of technology,” Santacana said.


Along Comes the Smart Grid


One area of growing innovative interest to ABB is the smart grid. During Tuesday morning’s briefing, ABB CTO Peter Terwiesch said that going toward a smarter grid is about evolution, not revolution.

“It’s not a smart grid, to me, to change just the bits and bytes, like meters, and not change the flow of electricity itself,” he said.

Joe Hogan, CEO, opens ABB Automation & Power World at the keynote session.

In Europe, the smart grid is moving down from the high-voltage side of things, while in the U.S., it is moving back up from the meter, Santacana said. At some point, they expect a convergence point around the substation.

Santacana, in a one-on-one with POWERGRID International, said that in Europe, there’s a traditional transmission emphasis driven by the nature of the utilities’ structure. In the U.S. there’s a more segmented approach—a more decentralized system—making distribution a much bigger part of the equation. It’s natural evolution for Europe to be looking at smarter grids moving from transmission and the U.S., where AMI was initially much more useful, to be approaching from the other direction.

Attendees visit the Automation & Power World show floor.

Santacana sees a point where it will become easier for all. Europe and the U.S. will meet as standards develop and the smart grid develops, he said. Because vendors need global leveraging to help with costs, standardization, in some ways, will be demanded, Santacana said.

He sees IEC standards gaining momentum in the U.S. like they have across most of the rest of the world (Europe, Japan and China).

“IEC will become a necessity, as suppliers would like the standardization, and functionality will be the driving force,” Santacana said.

Standardization will be the global turning point for smart grids, but what are the hurdles to reach a real, holistic grid beyond standardization issues? Santacana sees tech barriers—perceived or real—and economic barriers falling away. A smarter, holistic grid depends mostly on “utility confidence that the changes will be approved by regulators and that a return on investment is recognized,” he said.

“Tech-wise, we are ready,” he said, “but utilities need certainty.”

ABB Automation & Power World 2011 will be April 19-21, 2011, at the Marriott World Centre in Orlando, Fla.




Portugal’s EFACEC Comes to America


Portuguese tech giant EFACEC’s power transformer manufacturing plant near Savannah, Ga., looks to play a vital role in re-energizing the regional economy with a net state impact of $23.75 million and an additional Effingham County impact of $39 million by 2017, according to figures from the Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Global Commerce Division.

More than 1,500 workers including skilled assembly workers, electrical engineering specialists and suppliers will make a significant, permanent and positive impact on the state and regional economy in the coming decade.

“It’s been an honor to grow our relationship with EFACEC over the last few years,” Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said. “The company’s economic impact will benefit Georgia citizens for many years beyond the scope of our original projections, and we look forward to working with the company as it continues to grow in our state.”

The plant’s arrival makes it the third-largest employer in the region, behind the County Board of Education and the Georgia Pacific’s Savannah River Mill (1,695 and 1,306 jobs, respectively).

John A. Henry, CEO of the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority, said he has seen the mitigating effects over the recession during construction.

EFACEC continues hiring with the goal of adding 200 more workers by 2013. That will bring the plant total to 624. With an additional 929 associated jobs statewide to support product supply and distribution, the total state jobs figure should reach 1,535 by 2017.

EFACEC serves energy, environmental services, transportation and logistics areas of technology, focusing on transformers, switchgear and services under the energy umbrella. The company has a presence in more than 65 countries and annual revenues in excess of $1.3 billion.



Commentary: State, Local Governments Feel Budget Pinch, Turn to Energy Management

Gregg Dixon, EnerNOC

With budget surpluses rare, legislators increasingly are recognizing that energy management is a financial necessity with the potential to deliver significant taxpayer relief. Beyond traditional energy efficiency measures, states including Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Vermont have embraced energy management technology to generate payments and drive savings.

Demand response programs are available in many U.S. markets. The programs pay electricity users in exchange for their agreement to reduce demand on the electric grid during urgent periods such as peak usage or high electricity prices. Technology solutions such as EnerNOC’s demand response application help participants maximize their demand response payments and better manage daily energy usage. It results in a valuable revenue stream that can be funneled back into state programs and drive important savings. Maine deployed EnerNOC’s demand response application in late 2009 at several correctional facilities and office buildings.

“The state of Maine’s participation in demand response is good for all Maine residents,” Gov. John Baldacci said.

Lower operating costs at state buildings translates to less money out of taxpayers’ pockets.


What is Demand Response?


Demand response gives electricity users incentives, typically cash or rate reductions, to reduce energy consumption when called into action typically less than 80 hours annually. Reductions customized for each building can include turning off lighting, air conditioning, and other nonessential equipment.

Demand response companies work with commercial, institutional and industrial organizations to identify ways to reduce energy consumption without affecting operations, comfort and product quality. Once a customized energy-reduction plan is implemented, EnerNOC notifies participating facilities when the electric grid is under duress because of peak demand, electricity price spikes or other emergencies. Facility managers then enact their customized energy-reduction plans for the demand response event’s duration, which can last a few minutes to a few hours. Facilities that participate in demand response are paid on standby in case an event is called, and based on the amount of electricity they reduce during a demand response event.

Demand response provides a steady payment flow to participating facilities without requiring much attention from facilities staff. It can benefit government facilities significantly, Baldacci said.

“The direct benefits will lower the cost of electricity to state facilities and the cost of operating the state government,” Baldacci said.

Some demand response providers also offer participants energy-monitoring software that enable real-time views into their performces against target energy reductions during demand response events and to identify other areas that energy can be managed more efficiently. The state of Maine has free access to EnerNOC’s demand response application, which offers visibility into energy use at all participating facilities and enables the state to evaluate its ongoing energy use, reduce its use and drive more savings.

Demand response savings aren’t strictly financial. Participating facilities help protect local businesses and residents from blackouts, brownouts and other power issues. Demand response programs also provide a significantly lower cost and more environmentally sound alternative to building more peaking power plants, which emit some 5,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 100 operation hours. Demand response also helps facilities get closer to carbon-reduction goals because it decreases electricity usage.

Other Smart Energy Management Strategies for Government


Demand response is just one way to leverage energy assets to create more budgetary breathing room. Massachusetts recently announced it is working with EnerNOC to deploy a comprehensive enterprise energy management system to reduce energy costs by 515 percent at more than 470 state-owned facilities. The state expects to save some $10 million annually on energy once the system is fully deployed. Applications such as these can provide significant cost and energy savings at government facilities by encouraging energy managers to look at the whole life cycle of a megawatt, from buying energy more cost-effectively, using it more efficiently, and acting responsibility in reporting emissions once that megawatt has been used.

State and local governments face balancing fiscal concerns with environmental initiatives. Being more informed energy consumers and armed with the tools to effectively manage energy puts money back into governments’ operating budgets, which can help fund additional state priorities and agendas.

Gregg Dixon is senior vice president of marketing at EnerNOC.







Stakeholders Team up to Expand Europe’s Super-Grid


John Blau, European Contributor

Europe has plenty of grid initiatives to help meet its ambitious goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with renewable energies such as wind and solar. Now it needs an action plan.

All the talk about building new long-distance, high-voltage transmission infrastructure to span national territories has remained mostly just that. But experts say the talk has advanced to a new level, especially in offshore infrastructure in northern Europe where around 100 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power are planned.

Indicative of the growing momentum, yet another initiative recently entered the fray: the Friends of the
Super-Grid. The group consists of established players in
the energy logistics chain, including Areva of France, Prysmian of Italy, Mainstream Renewable Power of Ireland, as well as Germany’s Siemens and Hochtief. It has proposed a phase one project to connect England, Scotland, Germany and Norway at a cost around à¢â€š¬34 billion.

That amount is close to the à¢â€š¬30 billion projected by the North Sea Countries Offshore Grid Initiative. That group, which launched at the end 2009, consists of the European Union member states Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, plus Norway, which is not part of the EU. Its goal is to spur construction of an offshore grid in the North Sea with connecting installations on the mainland. The countries hope to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) later this year and lay the foundation for action.

Who Foots the Bill?


But the big question is: Who’s going to pay? Financing has been a sticking point in nearly all discussions about building super-grid infrastructure. It’s an expensive business whether on land or at sea.

Alone in Germany, Georg Erdmann, an energy systems expert at the Technical University of Berlin, expects costs to connect new offshore wind parks through 2020 to soar beyond figures initially projected two years ago. He said that groups working on new German wind parks know more today and agree that the initial cost estimates were too low.

Greenpeace has looked at the costs of building high-voltage, long-distance onshore and offshore grids across Europe. The organization estimates that 34 existing high-voltage alternating current (HVAC) interconnections will need to be upgraded between neighboring countries at a cost of about à¢â€š¬3 billion. At least another 17 high-voltage direct current (HVDC) interconnections will need to be installed for about à¢â€š¬16 billion. And up to 11 new long-distance HVDC super-grid connections will be required for around à¢â€š¬100 billion. The International Energy Agency (IEA), looking at only an upgrade of existing transmission assets in Europe, estimates investment of about à¢â€š¬200 billion through 2030.

Numerous financing schemes are under discussion. The North Sea Grid Initiative plans a mix of public and private financing. Adam Bruce, global head of corporate affairs at Mainstream and chairman of the RenewableUK interest group, envisions a financing model for offshore grids and super-grids similar to the one for current grids: A regulatory framework allows transmission system operators (TSOs) to build grids and operate them at regulated rate of return so they can attract investment to build, he said.

“For offshore, of course, you will need higher rates of return because of the risks involved,” Bruce said.

He expects a new group of pan-European TSOs to run the network.

“These could be a combination of existing TSOs and new players,” he said. “They could be organized within a framework, like the Airbus industrial group.”

European grid planners picture a combination of interconnected grids: smart grids for intelligently connecting and distributing electricity from renewable sources; super grids for wide-area, high-voltage distribution; and all of these integrated with existing onshore grids. Smart grids are attracting potential new players to the energy sector, including telecommunication companies. The networks will require advanced communication, monitoring and control systems to balance supply, demand and storage from thousands of small renewable energy producers, in addition to existing energy companies.

Transmission Technology Debated


As for the technology, Mainstream’s Bruce said that HVDC and, in particular, HVDC Light are the preferred systems for offshore grids. HVDC Light, based on Voltage Source Converters (VSCs), is capable of transmitting high-voltage electricity over long distances with minimum loss. The main advantage of HVDC Light cables over their HVAC counterparts is their reduced weight and dimensions, which result in a higher power density. Put another way, the power they transport per kilogram of cable is higher.

But Antonella Battaglini, senior scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said there is still an animated discussion about technologies for new onshore grid installations. About 90 percent of Europe’s grid infrastructure today is HVAC, she said.

“We will need to distribute electricity not only from renewable sources but also to storage sites,” Battaglini said. “This is where the discussion about AC and DC is most relevant.”

Battaglini also has been a key player in launching the Renewables Grid Initiative, which has brought nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Greenwatch together with TSOs, including Tennet and Vattenfall.

Other groups are researching grids for North Sea countries, including the European Wind Integration Study (EWIS) and the Irish Scottish Links on Energy Study (ISLES). Super-grid construction related to renewable energy is also a topic in the industry association European Network for Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSO-E), the European Commission’s Trans-European Networks for Electricity (TEN-E) and the Electricity Regional Initiative (ERI).

If renewable energies will play a huge role in Europe’s ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 as EU leaders claim, then all these initiatives and other stakeholders must come together and act soon.

“The 20-20 targets can’t be achieved in several European countries without extensive infrastructure expansion for renewable energy,” Battaglini said. “It’s time for a common voice for grid extension.”

John Blau is a U.S. journalist based in Germany. He specializes in business, technology and environmental reporting and produces extensive industry research. Blau has written extensively about German environmental issues.

This article was reprinted with permission from as part of the PennWell Corp. Renewable Energy World Network and may not be reproduced without express written permission from the publisher.


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