CPV solar: who knew?

24. April 2012 18:13

Concentrating PV looks poised to grow

A quick visit to the Solar booth provided a valuable education. ABB partner GreenVolts had a concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) module on display--turns out these are far more efficient than their conventional PV counterparts. Of the raw solar energy striking the panels, 30% goes out as electricity. They also perform better that PV panels as temperatures rise, which clearly would be a concern in the hot, sunny environments where solar does best.

GreenVolts has also simplified the installation and scalability of the modules so that putting up a few on top of a carport or a few hundred in a utility-scale project is essentially the same process.

If you're at the show, it's worth a visit to the Solar booth.

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Executive insomnia: what keeps corporate america up at night?

24. April 2012 17:45

Panel touches on familiar themes: aging infrastructure, failing government and finding good people

A fragile economic recovery is underway, but the threat of another recession is only one of many "bad dreams" North America's executives are having. Rising costs for energy and materials, increasing competition from overseas, and an aging asset base are just a few of the many challenges facing businesses today. A panel of C-level executives from some of the region's top organizations reveals what's on the minds of industry leaders--and what they're doing to get a better night's sleep.

If you think "money" is the answer to this session's title question, you would be pretty far off the mark. Moderated by ABB's Allen Burchett, the panel consisted of top executives, including Michael Heyeck, American Electric Power, Paul Wyman, Smart Grid Solutions at Lockheed Martin and Ron May, DTE, and not one of them mentioned money as a leading cause of lost sleep.

Over the course of the hour, some specific themes emerged. One was people.

How do they deal with an aging workforce and how do they keep their people safe in an aging infrastructure? Time and time again, the phrase "talent management" was mentioned. For these executives, gaining, retaining, retraining and promoting the right people for their jobs is a priority. The focus on employee retention also helps the executives make safety a top priority.

"We think employee engagement is central to everything we do," said Ron May. They're our number one asset, and you don't want them afraid to go to a particular job site."

Cyber security also emerged as a growing concern for these executives. All agreed that they take any and all threats seriously, with Lockheed Martin facing up to 300 cyber attacks a day. Michael Heyeck of American Electric Power likened these attacks to a cyber cold war, with little chance of abating. This is one case, they agreed, where they would like government to step in right away to assess the threats for terrorist connections. In an industry that includes nuclear power plants, any attack could have potentially deadly consequences.

Speaking of the federal government, the panel expressed concern and growing frustration over the lack of an energy policy in the United States.

"Not having a policy keeps people from making long term investments and commitments to match a policy," stated May.

This keeps the industry in a constant state of confusion over shifting priorities and election year buzzwords. May sees the individual states beginning to take charge and create their own policies. He believes that the states will eventually lead the way toward a unified energy policy in the US. It just won't happen overnight.

As the session wound down, Allen asked the executives to name just one thing that really does keep them up at night. Interestingly, the executives agreed that the key to a good night's rest is "risk mitigation."

Said AEP's Heyeck, "It's not what keeps you up at night, but what are you going to do about it that matters. We think of what worries us the most, and then put procedures in place to keep that from happening."

So while none of the executives would admit to sleepless nights, it was clear from the hour long session that ensuring the safety of their people and mitigating risk are major concerns. Not one word about the stock market or the market volatility. This almost seems to be something of a revelation in an age of corporate bailouts and golden parachutes. Guess there ARE better ways to fall asleep than counting dollar signs.

Reported by Melissa London

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Squid pizza: ABB's "in country for country" strategy

24. April 2012 15:43

In his keynote address, ABB CEO Joe Hogan covered a lot of ground. Even if you listened closely through the 50+ slides and remarks about market trends, disruptive technologies and new products, you might have missed one of the most important elements of ABB's strategy.

It’s called "in country for country" and as the name implies it refers to a shift in the way the company serves its many markets, away from an emphasis on export from centralized production facilities to a more distributed approach. In short, ABB is getting local.

To illustrate the point, Hogan related the story of how Pizza Hut's lagging sales in Japan improved dramatically when the company turned over product development to their Japanese managers. One result was squid pizza, apparently now a hit among Japanese consumers.

"Nobody in the US would likely have come up with that," Hogan observed. Indeed, probably not.

For ABB, there are probably hundreds or even thousands of "squid pizza" analogies—subtle differences between locales that may not even have anything to do with a given product itself but with how it is manufactured, sold or serviced.

One example of "in country for country" in action is ABB's investment in a multi-division campus in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. When it was announced five years ago, many assumed it was just another move to lower production costs. If you visit SLP, though, you'll find not just assembly work going on but also engineering and service. In fact, one of the main drivers behind the project was to build ABB's business within Mexico.

"The days of labor arbitrage are over," said Hogan. Simply moving production to lower cost countries is no longer a viable strategy for long-term success. Instead, ABB's intent is to serve local markets from local facilities.

Hogan qualified this by noting that in some cases it may make sense to continue with a more centralized model, but the trend is toward less pepperoni and more squid pizza.

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Getting over the hurdles to energy efficiency

24. April 2012 15:23

Many industries have evergy efficiencies, which present opportunites that can be addressed.

So a guy walks into a chemical plant and notices that they are heating a huge tank of water. He asks the plant operator “Why are you heating this water?” The plant operator replies “that keeps the water from freezing, which would cause a lot of trouble.” So the first guy asks the plant operator, “OK, but why are you heating the water in July?

That’s actually a true anecdote, and shows why behaviors and practices are such an important part of addressing energy efficiency. Many industries have such inefficiencies, which have simply become part of the operating routine. Why aren’t these opportunities being addressed?

One challenge in that many manufacturers don’t have good transparency into how and where they use electric and thermal energy. Competitive businesses today have clear KPI for quality, productivity and throughput. But some of the largest energy hogs are often buried in support processes such as electricity, compressed air, steam, water, or industrial gases - which are largely measured on their availability.

Even companies which do focus on energy can lack the technical expertise to understand what improvements can be made, or are unable to quantify the bottom line impact of such recommendations to their management.

ABB’s approach is to take customers on a journey from on-site assessments to implementation, so real bottom line results are realized. Over ten years of experience in many industries, ABB has learned that energy savings of 5 to 35 percent can often be created. This can make a significant contribution to competitiveness and environmental performance, especially in industries where energy is a large part of the cost structure.

Articulating a clear business case for energy efficiency improvement projects is often the sticking point to implementation. ABB gets over this hurdle with a feasibility and master plan that identifies a manageable number of projects with clear financial returns and guaranteed performance, which can move opportunities from identification to realization.

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All aboard the energy storage solution in rail transport

24. April 2012 15:17

Energy storage takes public transportation to the next level of energy efficiency

World energy consumption is expected to increase by 50 percent in the next 20 years. Increasing the use of public transportation would be a giant step towards a more energy efficient world.

However, public transportation systems have a long way to go before becoming sustainable and energy efficient. Regenerative energy storage can help rail transit operators reduce their energy consumption.

ABB is the lead integrator on an innovative project with Septa, a local transit operator in Philadelphia. Septa is the third largest consumer of PECO, the largest electric utility in Pennsylvania. Today, 80 percent of Septa’s electricity consumption is traction power, of which 60% goes into kinetic (movement) energy. However, every time a train brakes at a station, most of this energy is lost. This project aims to demonstrate that by storing this energy electrically and returning it seconds later to assist the train’s departure, it can reduce electricity consumption by 30%. Pro-rated over the entire network, this represents annual savings of $14M based on today’s energy costs.

Jacques Poulin, product manager for energy storage solutions at Envitech Energy, a member of the ABB group, presented EnvistoreTM, ABB’s regenerative energy storage system (RESS) at Automation & Power World 2012. EnvistoreTM uses double-layer super-capacitors to regenerate the braking energy of trains and assist during their acceleration. When coupled with batteries, the system can also help operators participate in local wholesale energy and frequency regulation markets, providing them with an additional source of revenue.

EnvistoreTM has the highest footprint density in the market and is a complete system solution which ensures that all excess braking energy is captured. The modular packaging ensures that any power and energy requirements can be met from the lightest monorail to the heaviest metro and commuter train. The system includes state-of-the-art monitoring features such as a virtual oscilloscope to visualize the braking and other energy events, energy metering and an easy-to-use and remotely accessible wed interface.

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