Disruptive technologies changing the energy landscape

ABB Australia managing director Axel Kuhr
ABB Australia managing director Axel Kuhr

How can Australia and other nations achieve the ambitious goals set at the December Paris Climate summit? ABB Australia managing director Axel Kuhr sees solar, microgrid and battery storage as key enabling technologies the local market can utilise to reduce carbon emissions and costs in the energy sector.

Transforming the global energy sector for a more sustainable future is a multi-generational project. Short-term actions, however, based on readily available and proven technologies, could help industry meet climate goals.

In terms of technology, ABB Australia managing director Axel Kuhr said Australia already has everything at its disposal to enable a smooth transition to a more sustainable and economically viable energy system; think battery storage, microgrids and solar energy.

“Investing in research and development, and taking strategic stakes in emerging companies with proven or promising renewable energy enabling technologies is a really important part of moving into the new energy future,” Mr Kuhr said.

In Australia, this approach led to the acquisition of Darwin-based PowerCorp, a world leader in integrating distributed energy resources and loads, as well as grid stabilisation and energy storage solutions. This business is now at the centre of ABB’s global microgrid business.

ABB’s commitment to the solar sector also led to the 2012 acquisition of Power One, one of the top two domestic inverter suppliers worldwide. Today, ABB has one of the widest portfolios of solar inverters suitable for residential PV systems right up to multi-megawatt PV power plants. The company also has plans to soon release its REACT domestic inverter and energy storage product in Australia, which will help customers adapt to time-of-use tariffs by better matching their energy consumption and production.

“In the transportation sector, our electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and direct current (DC) wayside Energy Storage System for rail is establishing benchmarks for energy efficiency and sustainability,” Mr Kuhr said.

“Advancing the technical and financial viability of ‘fringe-of-grid’ technology to improve network resilience is one of our focus areas.”

The Grid Energy Storage System for the Thomas Town project with Ausnet Services is one example of Australian-developed technology. ABB’s Powerstore grid stabilising generator provides active and reactive power support during periods of peak demand – an alternative to traditional grid augmentation solutions that lock-in costs throughout a 20-year period.

ABB has identified microgrids as a great growth opportunity worldwide, including further penetration into remote communities, defence facilities, utilities and commercial applications in Australia.

“They are an enabling technology that link distributed energy resources and loads,” he said.

“We are excited about our involvement with a renewable energy microgrid project that will demonstrate the feasibility and reliability of an off-grid hybrid solar system in reducing carbon emissions and diesel costs in the mining sector.”

The rhetoric around renewable energy and energy storage technologies is that they are disruptive to the traditional model. But Mr Kuhr prefers to think of renewable energy, energy storage and microgrids as enabling technologies – solutions that enable Australia to transition from a high carbon-intensive power generation sector, to a model where energy consumers have many more options.