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Lessons in energy storage from the grid edge: Maxine Ghavi, Hitachi ABB Power Grids


“If you look at our core business, we are in the energy management and energy optimisation business,” Maxine Ghavi says.

“The key pillars that we leverage here are energy storage, as a core competency, and also expertise in automation, and digital, to really look at multiple generation and multiple loads; [there are] many components within the energy ecosystem we're looking at, and ensure that – in a very smart way – we're managing all of the loads and generations to optimise to reduce cost of energy to reduce energy consumption.”

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Ghavi is head of grid edge solutions at Hitachi ABB Power Grids, a new company formed by the coming together of two very established players in the technology, engineering and energy sectors. Hitachi took an 80.1% stake in the new venture in July this year, seeking to expand the Japanese company’s energy solutions business worldwide.

Taking Hitachi’s digital technologies and welding them to expertise gained by Swiss engineering giant ABB’s long history in the power grids sector, Hitachi ABB Power Grids operates in numerous sectors from mobility, data centres, smart cities, industry solutions – and of course energy.

Maxine Ghavi is speaking with to explain the role that battery storage and related technologies play within the business division that she leads. The Grid Edge division is serving everything from grid-stabilising applications or capital investment deferral for large utilities, to remote communities in off-grid or “end of the line” settings as well as helping commercial and industrial (C&I) customers to manage energy use and costs.

“It's really all encompassing; but we focus quite a bit on technology, obviously, [we] bring that to productisation and [focus on] being able to deploy in numbers and being able to scale.”

Learning the true value of energy storage

Maximising value stacking with energy storage has become a key component of that whole proposition, Ghavi says, and it’s also key to be able to do that in those markets where energy and power assets can be leveraged. In other words, the more applications energy storage assets can serve, the more revenue streams and benefits accrue for the end customer, and the more the cost of energy goes down.

“It's exciting that energy storage is being recognised as an asset that can participate in the market, because we can leverage more of that in the analysis of the business cases that we do for our customers.”

That recognition of the versatility and value of energy storage is spreading around the world, but it’s certainly not everywhere yet. In terms of geographies where it already works really well, Ghavi says “clearly the US is one, we see a number of countries in Europe, obviously the UK, Germany.”

“We even have an example of a system that we installed at a site we have in Norway, we commissioned over a year ago that is also a good example of value stacking,” Ghavi says.

“That’s at a soccer stadium, where they wanted to add solar to the rooftop, then when they are not generating power for for events, then they can sell that to the [local] community so they can participate in the market.

“So from a market segment perspective, we're seeing aside from the US and Australia and UK, we're seeing other pockets, where you can do the value stacking part of it because you can participate in the power market.

Ghavi says Australia is a “really interesting, dynamic market”, where Hitachi ABB Power Grids delivered the country’s first virtual synchronous generator in a project completed a couple of years ago.

Serving a remote community in Dalrymple, South Australia, at the far end of a 33kV, 120km transmission line, the Energy Storage for Commercial Renewable Integration (ESCRI) uses the company’s own-brand Power Store battery storage system along with associated inverter hardware and smart software to provide inertia and voltage support for the local grid, while also stacking revenues from services like frequency control and integrating nearly 100MW of local renewable energy generation into the wider grid for transmission operator ElectraNet.

Much of what has been learned about integrating renewables and balancing the grid with low carbon resources like energy storage by Hitachi ABB Power Grids – and the rest of the power and energy industries – has come from work in remote communities in places like Australia, Ghavi says. These lessons are being replicated around the world. Not everywhere, yet, but the lessons are there to be learned.

These lessons include the relative differences between integrating larger shares of wind versus solar. Wind is more intermittent in its generation profile, requiring much faster response and management, but of course, preventing both from being curtailed and wasted is equally important.

Maxine Ghavi, Hitachi ABB Power Grids: “It’s exciting that energy storage is being recognised as an asset that can participate in the market”.

‘Bringing more intelligence into the system’

Maxine Ghavi says that commercial and industrial (C&I) customers are also paying more and more attention to the way that advanced technologies and behind-the-meter distributed energy resources (DERs) can lower their energy costs while becoming more sustainable. Again, energy storage plays a vital role within this equation.

“We see more and more commercial and industrial sides who are focusing on those two things. The way to achieve that is really to increase renewable installations. And then the more you increase those, the more you need to manage them better. And again, there's also services that can be leveraged, services that can be provided to the grid.”

“That's the other part of value stacking. Aside from participation in the power market, there are services that you could provide with the assets that you have behind-the-meter to the local utility. And that also, of course helps from a business case perspective and reducing the the the overall energy bill.”

Hopefully, the business world and utilities are waking up now to the massive advances in sophistication of that DERs equipment, as well as the way that their costs are falling rapidly. While DERs used to pretty much only mean solar, Ghavi says, the “ecosystem” for DERs has “gotten far more complex”. Industrial sites now increasingly require electric vehicle (EV) charging solutions, for example and again, ways to leverage those resources are being found, often with energy storage as key to that leveraging.

The cost of solar hasn’t just fallen relative to the reduction of cost of PV panels, costs have been reduced at the whole system level and the same things are now happening with storage as battery costs go down, the scale of deployment increases and the overall balance of plant of systems has also improved, Ghavi says.

“From a system level perspective, one of the things we focus on is system optimisation. We'll look at all of those key components, be it solar be it wind in the system, or both. Or maybe if there's a diesel generator, if there's electric vehicles, then the grid services.”

Hitachi ABB Power Grids collective experiences have taken the company through a learning curve of reiterating products and adding more digital capabilities, taking learnings from off-grid or end-of-line sites and applying them to grid-connected applications.

The company’s Power Store battery storage systems and E-Mesh digital platform that Hitachi ABB Power Grid’s many different solutions run on have come about through a focus on “productisation, modularisation and rapid deployment,” Ghavi says.

One big difference between grid-connected and non-connected sites is the need to meet grid compliance standards, which can vary greatly in different geographies. Again, Maxine Ghavi says that the Grid Edge solutions need to be adaptable and scalable to whichever new rules they need to comply with.

“It certainly varies geographically, just because you're dealing with different utility requirements, grid code requirements and so from that perspective, it's different. [But] If you look at the solution to technology itself and look at it for a given application, then no, it's not so different.

So what's really, really important is that you want to have a solution that you can deploy globally. But you have to ensure that that this solution also has the ability to be customised for that given market, for that given geographical market or for that given application.

Because frankly, if we don't do that, reaching the scale is going to be a challenge, and therefore that will hinder deployment. So you really have to ensure that what you have is, there's a balance between, you know, productisation and customisation.”

We often hear that one of the main aspects of the energy transition, alongside decarbonisation and decentralisation, is digitisation. Ghavi explains why:

“The more distributed assets that you have and the more digital you become, the more you're able to extract value from from those assets. So digital capabilities are key. This is also one of our key priorities within the grid edge solutions business. We continue to expand on that, you know, things like being able to do remote monitoring and being able to bring into more intelligence into the system. It's really key and it's quite exciting for us.”

Cover Image: The Energy Storage for Commercial Renewable Integration (ESCRI) project in Dalrymple, South Australia. Image: Hitachi ABB Power Grids. 

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