Interview with Pitamber Shivnani: President, Power Grids Division, ABB India Ltd

President, Power Grids Division, ABB India Ltd

What are the changing trends in the way power is being generated, distributed and consumed in the context of smart cities development?

Smart cities are expected to change the face of city dwelling, bringing better quality of life through the use of cleaner and renewable sources of power, a lower carbon footprint with the rise of electric vehicles, smart buildings, smart meters and energy efficient motors. With disruptive changes taking place on the power generation and power consumption sides, we are building technologies and bringing solutions that are designed to not only limit environmental and economic impacts but also transform the entire power value chain of generation, distribution and consumption.

On the generation side, there is a gradual transition towards cleaner energy harnessed from wind, hydel and solar resources. To this end, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set clear goals to generate 40 per cent of the installed capacity from renewable sources by 2030 and 175 GW of renewable generation by 2022, enough to power 60 million homes by the sun.

As we shift towards distributed power generation, there is a growing need to integrate these sources for ensuring consistent and reliable energy distribution, while meeting the ever-increasing energy demand in smart and urban cities. Long distance transmission links based on pioneering technologies such as ultra high-voltage direct current (UHVDC) is gaining traction. For example, ABB is helping transmit clean energy evacuated from remote generation centres in the Northeast to demand locations such as Agra in an efficient way. This link connects 6,000 MW of AC (alternating current) from hydro plants to direct current (DC) compatible, reducing transmission losses considerably.

Utilities are also facing the challenge of ageing infrastructure, which brings a subsequent risk for component failure. Apart from investing in modernising their systems, utilities are increasingly looking at automation; introducing monitoring throughout the distribution network with SCADA and condition monitoring from grid node stations. Prediction is another trend where state utilities are trying to build a future-ready network that can forecast power requirement by analysing power consumption and demand patterns that then help them plan better.

On the consumption side, the dependence on electricity is increasing with the rising population and the increase in power-heavy industries and data centres. On the other side, there is a push towards electric vehicles (EVs) for reducing vehicular emissions and noise, and energy efficient smart buildings to reduce power wastage and optimise consumption.

How is the electricity grid positioned to take on the challenge of the growing proliferation of EVs and renewables?

The evolving grid with distributed generation from renewables has new complexities, with multi-directional power flow, which, by nature of renewable sources like wind and solar, will be intermittent and unpredictable. Further, consumption trends are changing with the new demands of industry, smart cities and urbanisation. EVs add a new dimension to the load scenario in the distribution network. Distributed generation has also paved way for power injection into the grid at different points on the network, thereby bringing in concepts of prosumers and V2G (vehicle-to-grid). The effects of intermittency and bi-directional power flow need to be looked into from an overall perspective and cannot be seen in isolation of each component. Accordingly, new technology solutions are being piloted and deployed to either reduce the transient effect on the main grid or make the grid resilient to the changes in the generation behavioural pattern.

What opportunities has the rise of renewables and e-mobility spurred within the power ecosystem?

We are witnessing unprecedented changes in both infrastructure and operation. Digitalisation led by the energy revolution is the biggest opportunity for the power ecosystem today. Digital solutions such as grid automation, smart grids, digital substations, HVDC links and network monitoring hold the promise of smarter, stronger and cleaner power infrastructure.

The plethora of generation sources, from sophisticated power plants to rooftop residential and individual sources, can lead to inconsistencies and imbalance in power supply to the grid. Furthermore, the increasing number of EVs will bring an additional strain on the grid. The digital grid will help address issues of distributed energy and load balancing. Grid automation will provide the insight and control needed to ensure that high-quality power is delivered reliably.

Similarly, in the area of transportation, there is a demand for highly efficient modes of mobility from EVs to metros and railways. Starting with Indian Railways, which is embracing clean energy for its operations over 750 railways along the northern line – one of the world’s highest-traffic rail corridors – and reducing the dependence on traditional energy sources, we will see an increasing use of alternative energy.

ABB offers power and automation products and solutions throughout the power value chain. This includes supporting essential city services with reliable, high-bandwidth communications, and enabling utilities and industries to deliver reliable electricity, water, heating and cooling services to our customers. We also offer more sustainable solutions for transportation providers within our current portfolio.

What are some of the strategies and solutions needed to successfully deploy and scale up e-mobility solutions?

In terms of the market, India is testing EV technology for public transportation in cities, which can use depot charging for overnight charging of buses. This can be leveraged successfully using existing set-ups like bus rapid transit corridors. Other early adopters of EVs are fleet services. However, at present, there are multiple standards for fast charging of passenger cars. Adapting to globally established open standards such as CCS or Chademo will help in attracting diverse car manufacturers – Japanese, European, etc. – and increasing market adoption. Understanding these diverse needs, ABB’s fast-charging stations can integrate key global standards in a single unit, thus increasing its reach and adaptability.

Furthermore, ABB connected-services enable the integration of smart mobility into monitoring systems for smart grid and smart city applications. This can further be integrated with smart buildings to give an immersive experience of a truly smart city. Other features like remote payment and remote monitoring will enhance the user experience and transform urban mobility.

What are ABB’s plans for participating in the Indian EV market?

ABB entered the EV-charging market back in 2010, and today has a fast growing global installed base of over 6,000 fast chargers across the world. Earlier this year, ABB partnered with Formula E to write the future of e-mobility. As the world leader in EV infrastructure, ABB offers the full range of charging solutions for electric cars, electric and hybrid buses as well as electrification solutions for ships and railways. In India, as utilities focus on enhancing their T&D capacity and set up transmission infrastructure, they are embracing new technologies. This means adopting younger, smarter infrastructure that is more conducive to load balancing from the grid. In addition, government programmes that focus on renewables, energy efficient building infrastructure and smart city projects will enable them to drive the rapid growth of electrification of transportation.

Interestingly, countries like India are taking a bottom-up mass model approach for e-mobility with e-rickshaws and e-buses. ABB India recently installed an EV fast-charging station at the NITI Aayog office in Delhi. Another example is in Jabalpur, where our solar inverters are enabling solar charging stations for e-rickshaws at four locations. ABB will strive to continue playing a vital role in the development of sustainable mobility, providing innovative and efficient technologies for EV charging infrastructure, rail and metro.