ABB is not abandoning its process automation strengths, to be sure, but energy and power are obviously the company’s sweet spot right now. Here are two recent announcements.

ABB is expanding its Raleigh, N.C. facility to include a technology center devoted to smart grid, known as the Smart Grid Center of Excellence. ABB is making an initial investment of $10 million in the technology center.
ABB will initially house the Smart Grid COE in its existing Centennial Campus facilities at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, with plans to build and lease out space on the Centennial Campus for a permanent facility nearby. The center will initially house several full-time dedicated ABB employees. These positions will be supported by the state of North Carolina, after the state’s Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) committee recently approved grants for new engineering positions in Wake County.

“As the world’s largest supplier of power transmission and distribution systems, ABB has always been on the leading edge of power technology,” said Enrique Santacana, ABB region manager for North America. “This initiative reaffirms ABB’s commitment to the smart grid and positions us to play an even larger leadership role in its development and implementation.”

Santacana said ABB’s long history with the state played a key factor in Raleigh’s selection. “ABB has a positive, long-standing relationship with North Carolina, and Raleigh in particular,” he said. “The combination of North Carolina’s support for technology innovation, our great partnership with N.C. State University, the abundance of engineering talent, support from state officials, and the Triangle’s growing reputation as a hotbed of smart-grid activity make Raleigh the right place to make this investment.”

The Smart Grid Center of Excellence (COE) will include a testing and development laboratory, a verification center to certify customer solutions before deployment, and a demonstration center that will showcase ABB’s smart grid technologies and collaborative partnerships. ABB will work closely with the FREEDM Systems Center, a strategic partner of ABB’s which is also based on Centennial Campus of N.C. State. The FREEDM Systems Center was established in 2008 by NSF to develop smart grid technology based on advanced power electronics and information technology.

“This is a very important development,” said Dr. Alex Huang, Progress Energy Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering, FREEDM Systems Center. “This new initiative by ABB will further enhance our collaboration. We are excited that ABB has initiated this new Smart Grid Center of Excellence and we look forward to collaborating with ABB right here in our own backyard.”

ABB will operate this smart grid technology center, which ABB officials believe will enable collaboration and partnerships with several local entities in the power industry. This includes the FREEDM Center, local utilities such as Duke Energy and Progress Energy, and other local metering and communications companies.

“It is clear the Raleigh and Triangle region, and North Carolina in general, is gaining momentum and quickly becoming a national smart grid hub – with so many energy companies and utilities bolstering their presence here on top of ongoing world-class research-and-development and educational initiatives coming from N.C. State,” said Adrienne Cole, Executive Director of the Raleigh Economic Development Council.

The site is already home to the North America headquarters of ABB’s Power Products and Power Systems divisions as well as one of eight global corporate research centers that is focused on advanced power system technology.

ABB also announced that it and General Motors have signed a non-exclusive memorandum of understanding to cooperate on a research and development project that will investigate uses for electric vehicle batteries once their useful life in the vehicle is over.

The project will examine the potential of reusing spent lithium-ion battery packs from GM’s electric car, the Chevrolet Volt, as a means of providing cost-effective energy storage capacity, which will improve the efficiency of electrical systems as they evolve into smart grids.

“Future smart grids will incorporate a larger proportion of renewable energy sources and will need to supply a vast e-mobility infrastructure – both of which require a wide range of energy storage solutions,” said Bazmi Husain, head of ABB’s smart grids initiative. “We are excited to explore the possibility of employing electric car batteries in a second use that could help build needed storage capacity and provide far-reaching economic and environmental benefits.”

According to GM, the Volt’s battery will still have significant capacity to store electrical energy, even after its automotive life.

“That’s why we’re joining forces with ABB to find ways to make the Volt batteries provide environmental benefits that stretch beyond the highway,” said Micky Bly, Executive Director of Electrical and Hybrid Systems, who announced the partnership at the EV Battery Tech conference in Troy, Michigan. “Our relationship with ABB will help develop solutions that optimize the full lifecycle of the Volt battery.”

Economical grid storage is often identified as a key “enabler” technology of smart grids that will drive the wider use of a variety of applications, including:

  • managing the intermittency of wind and solar resources
  • mitigating spikes in electricity demand
  • providing backup power
  • allowing cheaper off-peak power to be used during peak periods

ABB is currently at work on more than 20 projects around the world examining all aspects of the smart grid, from energy storage to network management, metering and communication, distribution automation and home automation systems.

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