Electrek‘s Michelle Lewis asked Anthony Allard, EVP, head of North America, Hitachi ABB Power Grids, how the US can make its power grids more resilient and better support clean energy, and what Hitachi ABB is doing to support large-scale electric vehicle deployment.
Hitachi ABB Power Grids digitizes all elements of the energy value chain and brings power grids into a sustainable energy future. In July, Hitachi ABB announced Grid eMotion Fleet, an EV charging system for large-scale public transport and commercial mobility. The company will also be providing energy storage systems to support large-scale EV deployments.
Electrek: What are the challenges/problems of the US electrical grid, and what does the US need to do in order to update to support the transition to clean energy?
Anthony Allard: The pathway toward a carbon-neutral future has one common denominator everywhere you look: It is always built on much more electrification. This is particularly true when it comes to transportation. Vehicles powered by fossil fuels account for approximately 28% of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, replacing gas and diesel-powered vehicles with electric vehicles is an essential element of any decarbonization scheme. Just as important, the electricity used to power them will increasingly need to come from clean, renewable sources.
This is a big lift. Transitioning toward reliance on more renewable energy sources will have enormous impacts on power grids. Perhaps the most critical challenge with renewable generation is location. Why? Renewable sources are typically in remote, often rural areas far from where the energy is needed – what we call load centers. They are also often in different locations than the thermal generation sources (coal-fired, mainly) that are currently being retired. Think of this as if we were to build a whole series of new cities in areas where there are currently no roads – transmission systems are those roads.
Timing is also a challenge, since renewable sources such as wind and solar cannot be produced on demand but are dependent on the availability of sun or wind. As a result, this energy must be either consumed when generated, transported to available load centers, or stored. Otherwise, the energy is lost, resulting in what the industry calls “spilled kilowatt hours.” As we shift toward the use of more renewables, we need to expand the availability of storage options, such as the use of advanced battery energy storage systems. Additionally, the establishment of high-capacity transmission links from areas where renewables are being generated to the major load centers and to areas with large-scale storage in the form of hydropower can facilitate the sharing of power between regions. This in turn can help address timing challenges, providing greater flexibility to manage peak demand.
In addition to the challenges above, it’s important to make sure that the grid is reliable and resilient. Changes in weather patterns, such as increases in extreme weather events, are also presenting challenges for grid operators. The winter storms in Texas and other parts of the central US are just the latest example of how disruptive such events can be. There will be a great deal of effort put into determining what exactly happened and how best to address the issues uncovered. What is clear, however, is that if we are going to rely much more heavily on electricity to power transportation, home heating, industrial processes, and other needs historically supported mainly by fossil fuels, then our power grids will need to be more flexible and resilient in order to support increased electrification and integrate clean energy resources.
One of the most important ways to integrate more renewables into the grids and make them more resilient, flexible, and reliable is to upgrade our electrical infrastructure and build more transmission lines. This will require a lot of planning and preparation on both a federal and national level where various stakeholders from federal, national, and state governments, trade associations, grid operators, electrical manufacturers, and many other stakeholders would need to discuss how to implement this plan.
Electrek: Who needs to be involved to do that, and how long could it feasibly take?
Providing more transmission capacity in different areas than where it exists today is an absolute prerequisite for the integration of more large-scale renewable generation sources into the grid. Transmission systems fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in terms of oversight, but the planning for transmission today is done regionally by ISOs/RTOs, utilities, and transmission companies. The permitting and siting processes for new transmission lines are driven largely by state and local requirements. In the US, transmission lines can take years or even decades to secure the right-of-way, obtain the necessary permits for construction, and build the infrastructure. Local opposition can delay or derail such transmission projects altogether. This can present significant financial risks to developers, who typically need to make very substantial investments during the planning stages, resulting in huge losses if projects are not completed.
To date, FERC has provided guidance that helps address some of the challenges associated with integration of large-scale renewables into the grid, such as Order 841 (which deals with storage) and 2222 (which deals with DERs). While these are important steps, they do not directly address the challenge of easing the way for developers to build out the needed transmission infrastructure. The development of an overarching national transmission plan could help provide a bit more clarity and certainty to developers, as they contemplate transmission investments.
Electrek: Hitachi ABB Power Grids is working on energy storage systems to make large-scale EV deployments possible. Could you please tell us more about what that is, and how it works?
Onsite solar and battery storage systems, along with other grid-edge technologies, will be crucial elements of the evolving electrification infrastructure. Energy storage technologies can be coupled with EV charging infrastructure to give grid operators more flexibility to manage peak demand by spreading consumption throughout the day and avoid any additional loads on the grid during peak demand.
Carefully designed networks of charging stations that work in concert with optimized scheduling systems (supported by advanced analytics) can track and balance EV charging demand with both real-time and stored supply. In practice, this can help ensure that costs can be minimized by encouraging vehicle owners to charge their vehicles off-peak, through financial incentives or other demand/response management programs. This managed charging in turn can also lower the contribution of EV charging to overall peak demand for the system, reducing overall pressure on the grid.
Anthony Allard is executive vice president, managing director, United States and head of Hitachi ABB Power Grids’ business in North America. Allard was most recently chief operating officer of BECIS, a leading energy as a service solution provider in Singapore. Having spent most of his career in the power sector at GE and Alstom in the US, he held several executive-level positions, including general manager and board member for GE Prolec Transformers in the US. He was also general manager for the GE-XD High Voltage Products partnership and spent 10 years working for Alstom Grid in both North America and the Americas in Strategy and Operations management roles. Allard holds an MBA from Yale University and a Masters in Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications from the Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble, France.
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