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PREPARING FOR THE ENERGY REVOLUTION: ABB's David Nicholl discusses how we need to prepare for a future in which our power requirements for industry, infrastructure and transport will be very different.

We're in the midst of an energy revolution. "There are massive changes driving the market," says ABB's David Nicholl. Renewables, energy storage and electric vehicle charging are all interconnected areas of interest.

Nicholl, who is ABB's executive vice-president for the electrification business in northern Europe, says demographic changes are making the need to get these technologies right. Population expansion is driving people into the city, which "creates an issue in terms of energy requirement," he says.

Nicholl suggests the idea of the 'smart city" encompasses virtually everything the energy revolution is about: industry, infrastructure and transport. "By transport, we mean the flow of people into and out of cities. These people are demanding better air quality and more sustainability."

Supplying green, clean energy to these people is putting a strain on old network grids, which are changing into more flexible micro--and mini-grids, in which energy can be generated, distributed and consumed within the same area. For Nicholl, today's energy revolution, while concurrent with Industry 4.0, "is something different". While Industry 4.0 is often seen as being about robotics and automation, data, digital twins and Internet of Things-based manufacturing, "the energy revolution is about how we power all that. How do we get power to buildings? How will we power cars and trains?"

Managing that change represents a huge challenge for engineering companies.

Time for change

"At ABB we're working with bus manufacturers such as Volvo to electrify the infrastructure," says Nicholl. "With trains, it's all about the electrification of the locomotive network. With cars, it's about EV charging in AC environments (such as the home) or DC environments, such as electrical charge stations."

When it comes to smart buildings, in the residential sector demand for connected appliances is getting higher, while "more and more people want to charge more devices. People want air-conditioning and smart lighting. Then there are buildings where there is a need for security, scanning for entry and so on. This all requires energy and digital information."

Then there's industry: 'We need to distribute power to those facilities to maintain 24hour production."

Brave new world

To prepare for this brave new world, Nicholl says: "the first thing you have to do is look at your market to analyse what's transformative. You look at your core competencies and what you're developing in terms of your R&D pipeline."

Then, to return shareholder value, "you need to take some calculated decisions. We select areas, such as electric vehicle charging, where we can invest and capture market growth."

Nicholl adds that it is crucial to get the timing right, "because you can build a plant but, if the market's not ready for it, then you've got a factory that's empty. You need to know when to move first, and you need to know when to move fast." For Nicholl, "that's when change management really counts".

Nicholl says this is fundamentally different from how things were once done, when the approach would often be a case of: 'these are the products we've made, now go and find somebody that wants them'.

Today it's different in that "the best way to have competitive sustainable advantage is to look at disruption in the market and develop offers the customer needs, such as a municipality that needs to get more power into the city, but their infrastructure isn't up to it.

"They need to reduce emissions and improve air quality, but they don't have any EV charging stations. There are so many problems like this. But you can't solve them all. You have to focus on those that provide the biggest gain for the customer and the best returns for the company.

"We have to work with governmental and industry bodies to make sure everyone is heard, and that stakeholders are aware early on in the process what solutions are available to them."
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Title Annotation:Supercharge: Change management
Author:Nicholl, David
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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