Holtab’s business development manager Peter Ackebjer is one of many people in the industry looking ahead for the opportunities offered by tomorrow’s power grid. After all, we are in the midst of a historical transformation.
In December 2015, the Swedish government decided to set up a forum for smart power grids in order to initiate a dialogue about their potential and to develop a national strategy for promoting these grids as a growth industry. The forum defines the scope of the concept in very broad terms to include the entire field of power electronics and new transmission technologies, new products and services based on IT, expertise in energy flows and control options for end users.
A smart power grid facilitates the introduction and use of renewable energy generation and leads to lower energy consumption and output reduction during capacity peaks, as well as creating the preconditions for more proactive consumers.
“For Holtab’s part, it is extremely important to follow developments in the industry and enter into dialogue with our customers and the sector as a whole. We aim to be a major driver of this transition, offering both know-how and products which can be scaled up in a rapidly changing market,” says Ackebjer.
Ackebjer feels that new technology and new products can be discussed separately, but that they are also strongly linked. New technologies create opportunities for new solutions whereas the user need for new products in turn drives the development of these technologies.
“There are already lots of good solutions for users of the new technology, and these will only increase with time. The electricity market is moving from large-scale and passive solutions towards small-scale projects with active ‘prosumers’.”
This is the environment that Holtab wants to be part of and in which it expects to find both development and business opportunities. The company’s aim is to be the self-evident partner for projects concerned with the impact of smart grids on society.
“We want to be a knowledge bank in order to help our customers produce appropriate specifications, but also to meet their needs with the right products. We will do that in a true Holtab spirit – via dialogue and partnerships.”
The smart network station
Holtab has already developed a product that could be the hub and nodal point of the power grid of tomorrow. It is called the smart substation and has been built with a large proportion of proven technology that can also be adapted for the future.
“It is naturally crucial that we can already offer a reliable and efficient technology, but it’s equally important that it is fully prepared for the needs of tomorrow. The substation is ready to use and has built-in functions for greater control, monitoring, metering and operation. We see this as a hidden resource that is merely waiting to be used.”
Ackebjer feels that tomorrow’s power customers will demand more technology and solutions for controlling and boosting the efficiency of their energy consumption. He believes that they will invest in their own generation installations inclusive of energy storage solutions.
“We are already observing greater interest in e-car charging and have an ongoing project with Tesla, for example. We think in terms of renewable, small-scale and decentralised solutions.”
Challenges for technical design
Holtab’s business development manager returns to several key concepts. The products must be designed to be modular, flexible, scalable, future-proof and cost-effective.
“Our customers expect applications to be cost-effective over a longer operating period. I tend to talk about new substations and retrofitting as the most important components in this process,” says Ackebjer.
Ackebjer further develops this reasoning by pointing out that there is often quite a simple and basic need in terms of the functions provided by a substation. In greatly simplified terms, it involves a cable-in and cable-out process.
“But it may soon be necessary to make automatic reconnections in the network, perhaps necessitating a customer structure allowing us to monitor output flows, which will require additional functions. The smart substation is fully prepared for this change.”
The smart substation means that Holtab offers solutions that can grow with the customer’s requirements without needing investment in new stations. We will simply be able to scale up a station as customer needs increase.
More extensive functionality during the entire operating life and retrofitting of the stations requires planning and clearly thought-out specifications on the one hand, and a standardised and modular product range on the other.
“Our products are designed to last for at least 40 years, hence our up-scaling perspective. Our customers pay nothing extra for that, but we see it as a natural part of our offer to supply stations that are optimised for the future in terms of reliability and development.”
Putting everything together
The smart power grid reflects an integrated perspective that the industry needs to adopt. Its potential can be seen from various perspectives, but they work in synergy. One perspective is to handle the technical changes in power generation and the greater demands made on efficiency and reliability. Another one is that customers will be expected to become more active and control their own consumption and degree of use.
“We must adopt an integrated way of thinking along the whole line and develop optimised solutions on the basis of the substation’s function in the power grids of today and tomorrow. It makes no sense at all to build-in old technology that cannot be adapted to new preconditions,” says Ackebjer.
“It’s essentially all about using proven technology and finding cost-effective solutions that are future-proof but also to dare to introduce new technology that creates clear customer value.”