Leveraging connectivity for green transformation of energy systems

Leveraging connectivity for green transformation of energy systems

5G is an enabling technology in the green transformation of electrical distribution grids – and we also need new business models to support the change.

We’re living in the midst of two ongoing revolutions – the energy revolution and the fourth industrial revolution. In the energy revolution, we are seeing clear plans from countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and shifting to renewable energy sources, cities becoming greener via investing in EV charging infrastructure and smart grids, as well as companies embarking on ambitious initiatives to decarbonize their operations and shift towards renewable energy sources.

Written by Petri Hovila
Written by Petri Hovila
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In the fourth industrial revolution, also known as Industry 4.0, traditional manufacturing and industrial practices are continuing to be automated with digitalized and connected solutions. We’re seeing a rapid increase of smart data-driven value systems and industrial solutions, including devices that can identify and diagnose issues without the need for human involvement, and that improve reliability, security, and efficiency of operations.

These transformations in society also place tremendous focus on communication networks, as keeping connections up and running without disruptions becomes even more crucial.  Wireless communication has progressed very rapidly in the last decades. However, the current 4G cellular communication networks are too limited for the most demanding critical connections.

When GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), also known as 2G, was introduced in the 1990s it was revolutionary as global wireless communication became possible. The next generation, 3G, brought us mobile internet. 4G, the current standard of cellular networks, brought us much higher data transfer speed which meant we could start to enjoy high-definition TV and video conferencing on the go.

Now, on our doorstep is 5G, which will transform the way we connect increasing amounts of devices from industrial and power grid applications to create smarter solutions.

With 5G comes significantly more capacity, thanks to new radio technology.  With more dedicated communication channels, we will be able to meet the varying demands of applications and users, enabling even the most critical connections to be carried out with wireless technology. These improvements will allow the interconnection of devices through secure, reliable, and low-latency wireless communication networks, which will have a profound impact on the design and operation of smart grids. 

All these dynamics combined drive the need for new technologies and business models.

Cooperation projects to support the transformation

The safe transition towards utilizing modern wireless communication technologies in critical infrastructure, such as in power systems, requires years of study, creation of early models and prototypes, and extensive testing. ABB is and has been involved in many research projects, in cooperation with research institutions and universities, companies, and public authorities. One example is the ‘5G Vertical Integrated Industry for Massive Automation’, also known as 5G VIIMA.

In the project, a pilot environment for testing 5G networks in power system protection and control has been set up in Espoo, Finland. The key equipment for the testbed is formed with ABB’s Relion® protection relays, SMU615 merging units and SSC600 smart substation control and protection devices. Further supplemented by video and sensor equipment, this setup of a real-time simulator enables us to study various power system architectures and fault scenarios. The topics set out to study are the megatrends that will change societies significantly when 5G is the communication solution for critical infrastructure, i.e. utmost reliability, minimal network latency, sensor systems, data collection and use, utilization of artificial intelligence, automation, low energy consumption, virtualization and cloud services.

This video outlines the 5G VIIMA project:

Green Electrification 2035

The digital era has made new technologies available, but to drive the energy revolution forward and deliver tangible results faster, we also need to join forces with other companies to share resources and capabilities.

Finland has set the ambitious target to become climate-neutral already by 2035. One of the pieces of the puzzle to meet the target is the Business Finland-funded Green Electrification 2035 program. Within the program, ABB will develop platforms for optimal electricity generation and electricity use.

The program brings together actors from different sectors and strategic partnerships will be formed, creating a business ecosystem, which will be better positioned to tackle the challenges and lead us on the way to a decarbonized future.  As a key driver and ‘locomotive’ in the program, ABB is encouraging the companies involved to develop their products and services based on the program’s technology platforms.

In this business ecosystem we can see the best of two worlds: start-up companies that can place their specialist focus and bring agility combined with the scale and stability of large enterprises co-creating value and delivering mutual benefit to the parties involved.

One focus area in the program is to develop a slicing service with mobile telecommunication operators to ensure wireless communication for critical infrastructure. The benefit of this new type of service is that it guarantees quality of service for end customer applications. Distributed energy resources, such as solar power plants, are distributed over a large geographical area. In such cases distribution system operators may need to implement wide area protection and control schemes where they have to rely on wireless connectivity, due to lack of fiber or other wired connectivity.

Carbon neutrality. Together.

Extensive cross-sectoral cooperation is needed to facilitate the enormous ongoing transformation to a carbon-neutral society. Through collaboration we find the best business models for all stakeholders. Together, we can build a green economy and a world that is driven by clean energy that is accessible and efficient thanks to enabling technologies such as 5G and its successors.

About the author

Petri Hovila is working as a senior principal engineer in ABB Electrification, Distribution Solutions and is responsible for research programs. He is also the program manager for the Green Electrification 2035 program. He has authored or co-authored a number of conference papers and is a co-inventor in several patent applications.

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