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Innovating energy: the only certainty is change

..and the depth and pace of technology change affecting energy cannot be overstated.

As renewables and digitalization enable fundamental changes in how we generate, distribute, and consume energy, the only certainty is that new technologies are going to continue to challenge our conceptions of what’s possible.

ABB is a pioneering leader in that technological innovation, but we also actively innovate energy solutions that deliver value to customers in this dynamic environment through collaboration with governments and academia.

I stressed the importance of that engagement when I spoke recently at the UN’s Vienna Energy Forum 2017, and then had the chance to explore its implications in private meetings with a number of world leaders.

The depth and pace of technology change affecting energy cannot be overstated.

Investments in renewables already top fossil fuels, evidencing a clear shift in production patterns toward resources that are infinite, but which also fluctuate. We’re seeing electrical networks sharing energy by connecting over vast distances — spanning hundreds of kilometers to link countries or, in the US, discontinuous states — utilizing the latest advances in high-voltage direct current technology (HDVC).

Distribution is changing, too, as micro grids gain momentum, especially in power-starved countries, such as India, and across the entire continent of Africa. Energy consumers are becoming producers via breakthroughs in rooftop technology like solar, and using home or electric vehicles battery storage to save off-peak energy for times it’s needed the most.

Add to this innovation the latest developments in digitalization, which are transforming the energy sector with everything from smart meters and entire management systems, to the data analytics, insights, and automation that can smooth networks’ capacity to anticipate and meet user demand.

As ABB continues to pioneer the equipment that delivers on the promise of these new technologies, and now offers our customers the value-added ability to manage them via our ABB AbilityTM digital offerings, I believe it’s just as important that we collaborate with our customers and other parties to innovate new models and solutions.

For instance, energy storage is a rich area for innovation in materials science and digital tools (i.e. where energy is stored, not just how), as our greater dependency on fluctuating resources requires it. Grid stability is another topic we’re going to hear a lot about over the coming years, requiring innovation in power models for faster prediction, and then response, to variables in generation. It’s important also that innovation in financing and regulatory regimes keeps pace with the rate of technology innovation.

This is the message I took to the UN event, and it’s something ABB lives every day, whether in the cross-business collaboration that pools problem-solving expertise and best practices, to our open innovation with more than 70 universities and a far larger universe of entrepreneurs and technology startups.

Most importantly, we collaborate with our customers on an ongoing basis to best navigate the latest technology breakthroughs and challenges in energy. Our goal is to constantly add value to their businesses, so that they can successfully meet their operational and customer requirements.

Because the only certainty is that things will continue to change.

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