Thursday, May 30, 2013

ABB’s North American smart grid VP reveals market strategies - Abbreviated Interview from January 22nd in Smart Grid Today with Gary Rackliffe

Gary Rackliffe, VP of smart grids, North America, at ABB, explains to Smart Grid Today in an exclusive interview, that ABB’s smart grids is focused on four areas of development: distributed grid management, utility analytics, transmission grid management, and distributed energy resources.  Rackliffe also explains how the recent acquisitions made by ABB integrate into these four areas.

Distribution grid management
Acquisition-focused ABB bought Tropos Networks, last year.  This acquisition gave the firm its own communications platform to reach the devices in the field such as load tap changers; line voltage regulators and capacitor banks for volt-VAR optimization; reclosers; DA switches; and various sensor technology for fault detection, isolation and restoration (FDIR), Rackliffe said.  “But with the acquisition of Tropos, we now have our own wide-area wireless broadband communications that will support distribution grid management.  ABB has an additional advantage from its 2010 $1 billion purchase of the enterprise software and solutions firm Ventyx.  We can offer our distribution management system and SCADA from Ventyx, communications from Tropos, and DA equipment and sensors from our Power Products division.”  In the last two years, ABB also invested $10 million on a “smart grid center of excellence,” a testing lab and demo center in North Carolina, where utilities can verify operations of smart grid equipment before field deployment. 

Utility analytics
ABB is chasing the “emerging markets” of utility analytics and asset management in North America, said Gary Rackliffe.  “We have a contract with AEP to implement an ‘asset health center’ solution for its entire transmission asset fleet, so we are not just talking about this, we are actually moving forward in implementing the solution.  We are combining our asset knowledge, our service base, our experience, performance models and algorithms, and our business intelligence software for the analytics and situational awareness that bridges OT (operation technology) and IT at AEP,” Rackliffe said.  ABB is also reaching “beyond transmission equipment,” when implementing the asset health center Rackliffe said. “At AEP, our primary focus is on high-voltage breakers, power transformers, and substation battery health.  But our medium voltage businesses are also implementing asset health management solutions by expanding the sensor base, service experience base, and the performance models and algorithms to cover distribution equipment – particularly switchgear and outdoor breakers.”   The acquisition of Ventyx helps drive development of this market with enterprise business intelligence and asset management software.

Transmission grid management
ABB views “technology that enables you to better control, manage and operate the transmission grid as part of our smart grid portfolio.” The firm is seeing sustained growth in FACTS (flexible AC transmission solutions) and more applications of its HVDC technology.  In recent months, the firm developed the world’s first circuit breaker for HVDC and built a new $100 million factory for high voltage transmission cables. In the transmission space, “as it pertains to smart grid, ABB is working on the integration of renewables, which tend not to be located near load centers,” Rackliffe said. That means high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology is needed and used.  Offshore wind with longer cables is an example of renewable energy that require HVDC technology.

Distributed energy resources
ABB is integrating software to manage distributed energy resources (DER) and to see how aggregated DERs impact distribution operations and how they can be monetized at the generation portfolio level and/or the energy market level.  DERs include demand response, distributed generation, electric vehicle charging, energy storage, and microgrid technologies.  ABB bought Epyon to provide DC fast charging station infrastructure and Powercorp to provide microgrid solutions with integrated energy storage. ABB in the last two years also expanded its energy storage portfolio to offer battery community energy storage (CES) for the distribution grid.  “An example is a CES project we have with Duke Energy using re-purposed batteries from Chevy Volts,” Rackliffe said.  The unit can deliver 25kWs of power and 50kWHs of energy.  There is high growth potential with energy storage, he added, but we need to get some cost reduction out of the batteries.  “The car manufacturers are helping us with their focus on driving down the cost of lithium-ion batteries,” Rackliffe added. In September, ABB introduced a solar-plant controller and grid interface that allows control of voltage, frequency, real power, reactive power, power factor and ramp-up generation rate.  The company also announced its plans to acquire PowerOne, which offers PV solar inverter systems.

Other major ABB investments
ABB also recently bought Tennessee-based low-voltage equipment manufacturer Thomas & Betts ($3.9 billion) and Arkansas-based industrial motors and generators maker Baldor Electric ($4.1 billion), making the US ABB’s largest market for the first time in the firm’s 130-year history.  The North American market is very appealing, simply due to the sheer size and potential of the market, Rackliffe stated.

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