Cities are becoming bigger and more resilient, but to truly thrive they need a stronger, smarter and greener energy system...
Cities are becoming bigger and more resilient, but to truly thrive they need a stronger, smarter and greener energy system. We recently spoke with André Burdet, head of product management & strategy at Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ Grid Integration business, to find out how renewable energies, transportation and digital networks are evolving to address the need.
Cities are the powerhouses of national economies, innovation, culture and opportunity. Yet many cities are struggling. As more and more people move in, public utilities and services (housing, water, wastewater, electricity and transportation) come under pressure. Congestion, pollution and affordable housing are pressing issues in many parts of the world.
But cities are rising to the challenges. Many are committed to the goal of the Paris Agreement and to becoming climate neutral by 2050. To do this, they need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, they also need strong power infrastructure that can deliver vast amounts of renewable energy reliably.
This is where the Grid Integration business of Hitachi ABB Power Grids comes in, providing high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission, flexible alternating current transmission systems (FACTS) and digital substations technologies.
For instance, HVDC enables vast amounts of emission-free hydropower to be transported over thousands of kilometers to megacities in China, Brazil and other countries, efficiently and with minimal power losses. In Europe, numerous HVDC links connect huge offshore wind farms to the grid and interconnect countries, enabling them to exchange renewable energy and support each other when demand is high. And in the US, Hitachi ABB Power Grids HVDC solutions interconnect the asynchronous regional transmission systems and connect with Canada and Mexico as well.
Power quality and grid stabilization are essential when large amounts of intermittent solar and wind power enter the grid. In Germany, for example, solar and wind power are generated mostly in the north, but the main load centers are in the south. This caused a bottleneck in the German power grid, whenever too much wind and solar power tried to flow south. Hitachi ABB Power Grids is designing energy solutions for the German power grid by providing reactive power compensation and dynamic voltage support to keep the grid stable at the required voltage.
“These solutions illustrate the surrounding energy infrastructure that cities need to meet their climate change goals and strengthen their resilience,” said André Burdet. He added, “Our focus is to provide solutions that help our customers develop reliable carbon-neutral energy systems. This includes connecting more renewables to the grid, ensuring the grid can integrate different types of supply and demand, including e-mobility, data centers and industries.”
Emission-free transportation is key
Low- and zero-carbon transportation is key to any city’s strategy to become carbon neutral. Today, this increasingly means transitioning from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles (EVs) — cars and buses, as well as to electrically powered streetcars and trains.
Transportation is a key part for any city to be successful. Electric mobility embodies many smart city expectations: smart cars, trucks, buses, and trains that run on zero-emission energy — all sustainable, green, and open-source.
“More than 100 million EVs are expected to be on the road by 2030 and urban bus activity is forecast to increase by 50 percent over the next 10 years. Urban buses in particular are responsible for a quarter of all carbon dioxide emitted in the transportation sector. Clearly, electric vehicles and buses powered by renewable energy is a must to make city air cleaner,” said Burdet.
It is estimated that over 500 TWh of electricity will be needed to power these EVs, potentially saving CO2 emissions. Even so, it’s expected that EVs will require about 10% of global energy, so new smart systems for efficient energy management will be needed — that is, an adapted and digitally enhanced grid infrastructure that can accommodate large volumes of renewable energy and reliably bring it to a wide range of consumers.
“Addressing these challenges will require strong cooperation between experienced stakeholders, ranging from technology providers, energy suppliers and vehicle manufacturers to transportation operators and urban planners,” said Burdet.
A smart grid should have the ability to balance greater variability in supply and demand while still being able to support all forms of storage systems — including electric vehicles. The smart mobility solution enables operators to efficiently scale up their operations and is expected to contribute to sustainable society for millions living in urban areas to accelerate the future of smart mobility.
Grid-to-plug solution for EV fleets
As part of its contribution to the electrification of urban transportation, Hitachi ABB Power Grids launched a grid-to-plug EV charging system for public transportation and commercial vehicle fleets in mid-2020 that the company considers a game-changer.
Called Grid-eMotion Fleet, the product is an all-in-one solution that connects to any type of power network (AC, DC, low or medium voltage), and any type of charger, to provide operability with the electric fleet. According to Burdet, it comprises a containerized high-powered charging system and substation, energy management and fleet management systems, all within a compact footprint for easy depot deployment.
On a final note, we asked Burdet what is the next big step for power grids and cities.
“Of course, the big question is: what is the best way to ensure that the energy sold as renewable really is 100 percent renewable? I would suggest the answer lies with digital networks, including the ability to manage the system digitally through blockchain. Blockchain is made possible by digital technology; it enables each participant to track and verify – in this case renewable energy – as it passes through the chain: from generator to grid operator to energy provider and finally the consumer. So the big revolution to come is again in asset management and the ability to manage the system through blockchain. And then leveraging the data generated to create or adjust business models. That is the next big step.”