Power gen big and small

25. April 2012 15:15

ABB's investments in power generation run the gamut

On the way into the convention center this morning I encountered an inquisitive barista at the Starbucks outpost who asked me about the conference, what ABB does, etc. He asked about energy storage devices, namely flywheels, and I told him I knew that they were used in some applications but couldn't say exactly what. Little did I know that I'd soon be able to answer his question more precisely.

A few hours later I visited the power generation area of the Technology & Solutions Center to get some information on Symphony Plus, ABB's control system for power plants. The product featured in Joe Hogan's keynote at last year's event as well as this one.

In nutshell, ABB has invested in a complete overhaul of Symphony in response to market conditions that make extending the life of existing power plants--and the control systems that run them--preferable to building new ones. Symphony Plus offers a variety of new applications (e.g., lifetime equipment monitoring, new turbine control and automation capabilities) but it is backward-compatible with previous versions.

It's also more scalable--a response in part to the trend in renewable generation facilities that tend to be smaller. And speaking of renewables....

My host next introduced me to Alan Longworthy, CEO of Power Corp, a recent ABB acquisition in Australia. He spun a compelling tale about how remote communities and industrial facilities that rely on diesel generation can mitigate the supply risk and price volatility associated with liquid fuels by exploiting the wind and solar resources that are often available in abundance in these locations. In fact, Longworthy said that fuel savings of 50 to 60 percent are possible.

The challenge, he said, is integration with the existing power system. Power Corp has worked out the kinks, however, and Longworthy is very bullish on the ability of wind and solar to compete with diesel generation--without subsidies. He also sees potential in the rising interest in microgrids, with military bases leading the way.

The variability of wind and solar is a well-known conundrum, the solution to which is energy storage and this brings me back to my Starbucks encounter. Power Corp's storage solution? Flywheels.

Power Corp's renewable generation + flywheel solution is already in place in a number of remote locations, including McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and we might see it being implemented closer to home in the near future.


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