By Kathleen Davis, Senior Editor
Leading industry vendor ABB held their annual users conference, Automation & Power World, in Houston, Texas May 18-21, 2010.
A keynote by CEO Joe Hogan opened the event, which also included networking opportunities, workshops, training and an extensive exhibit floor.
According to ABB, more than 4,000 participated in 2010 event, exceeding 2009 attendance record by 30 percent.
Keynote and ABB News
Automation & Power World officially kicked off with a keynote session on Tuesday, May 18 in the grand ballroom of the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Mark Taft, regional business unit manager for ABB opened the keynote, commenting that Automation & Power World is his favorite week of the year since he gets to be surrounded by customers and that the environment is conducive to a great sharing of ideas.
Joe Hogan, ABB CEO, followed Taft, sharing a number of his idea about the market, the world recession and ABB’s place in both the power and automation industries. Hogan focused on economic recovery and climate change in his keynote discussion, adding that energy efficiency and renewables are set to deliver three-fourths of emissions reductions in the immediate future. In fact, efficiency was at the heart of Hogan’s remarks.
“Energy efficiency is the real key for sustainability both in the short- and long-term,” he told the audience, pointing out the growing importance of the smart grid in both this area and with renewables integration. ABB plans on being innovative and forward thinking in the power arena, including with smart grid, Hogan added.
One forward thinking ABB idea heralded by industry insiders occurred before Automation & Power World, namely ABB’s acquisition of Ventyx on May 5. During a briefing at the conference itself, 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, president and CEO of ABB North America.
The second forward thinking idea was revealed during the Tuesday morning briefing when ABB announced they will build a new high voltage cable factory in the U.S., to the tune of a $90-million investment. That plant will be open for business 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 seems to be the smart grid. During that Tuesday morning briefing, ABB CTO Peter Terwiesch shared his idea 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.
Santacana added to Terwiesch’s statement, saying that, in Europe, the smart grid is moving down from the high voltage side of things, while here in the U.S., it is moving back up from the meter. At some point, they expect a convergence point, around the substation.
Santacana sat down for a one-on-one with POWERGRID International later that afternoon and expanded on that convergence statement. With Europe, there’s a traditional transmission emphasis driven by the nature of their utilities structure. In the U.S., there’s a more segmented approach, a more decentralized system, making distribution a much bigger part of the U.S. equation.
So, it’s natural–thinking in terms of evolution once again–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.
But, most importantly for vendors and utilities, Santacana does see a point where it will become easier for all, as Europe and the U.S. “will meet as standards develop and as the smart grid develops,” he said. Since vendors need a certain amount of global leveraging to help with costs, standardization, in some ways, will be demanded, Santacana believes.
In that area, he sees IEC standards gaining momentum in the U.S., as they have across most of the rest of the world (Europe, Japan, China).
“IEC will become a necessity, as suppliers would like the standardization, and functionality will be the driving force,” Santacana said.
So, standardization will be the global turning point for smart grids, but what are the hurdles to reach a real, holistic grid beyond the issues of standardization?
Santacana sees tech barriers–”perceived or real”–and economic barriers falling away at this point. 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 added. “But utilities need certainty.”
ABB Automation & Power World 2011 will be held at the Marriott World Centre in Orlando, Florida from April 19-21, 2011.