ABB Ability: digitalization in distribution

Balancing renewables and distributed energy resources with traditional sources such as coal, hydro, natural gas, and nuclear

Power distribution used to be confined to one-way energy disbursement to industrial clients, as well as to commercial and residential consumers. With the emergence of new technologies such as smart meters, distributed generation and electricity-powered vehicles that have changed the landscape for consumers, this scenario is completely different.

In addition to this changed outlook in power generation and consumption, technology trends that were transforming the consumer space have also permeated our industry. Distribution utilities now need to balance renewables and distributed energy resources with traditional sources such as coal, hydro, natural gas, nuclear and petroleum, even as they look to reducing costs. At the same time, proactive consumers (prosumers) are better informed about the sources available and they have higher expectations of service levels.

To satisfy this trend, the ABB AbilityTM offering for power distribution provides, for example, digitalization and analytics to improve the visibility of customer usage and forecasting, to control power usage and export prosumer power into the grid, and to balance energy. Through artificial intelligence, cyber-security solutions, intelligent grid technology, mobile devices, cloud adaptation and the interconnection of platforms, ABB is allowing utilities to be managed with better information using integrated business models with real-time information and analytics.


The impact of digitalization on electrical distribution

Digitalization is being driven by the customers of distribution utilities, who are calling for cost reductions that will increase profitability and revenues. The digital utility of the future offers opportunities right across the value chain: from distributed energy resources enabled by the data-driven alignment of supply and demand to data-driven asset management strategies like preventive and condition-based maintenance and predictive outages. Smart grids with automated controls improve network resilience, safety and efficiency and provide platforms supporting distributed energy resources and the marketplace. Digitalization is indeed having an impact on utility earnings through optimized plant maintenance, good inventory management and optimized fuel management. Costs are reduced by improved decision-making and a better overall energy balance; lower losses, predictive maintenance, and higher workforce productivity and at the group level, better resource planning and IT – OT integration. The impact of digitization on operations means that advanced analytics for digital sensor data provide insights into improving reliability and safety. Digitalization also greatly increases the ability to respond to emergency situations by quickly identifying the location of faults and automating system restoration.


ABB Ability and medium-voltage digital solutions

ABB has been building software and connectivity into its devices and systems for more than 40 years. Today, 55 percent of what ABB sells has software or digital at its core. The move towards digitalization, from product-based business models to a data solution-based business models, is therefore a natural one.

ABB Ability solutions for power distribution include:

      • UniGear Digital switchgear and the iVD4 intelligent breaker with sensors that collect data on the thermal and environmental status of the asset
      • MyRemoteCare and MySiteCare for asset health management
      • Clionet DataCare for the seamless replacement of protection systems and access to the data for power system and disturbance analysis
      • COM600 for remote monitoring and control
      • The REF series for centralized or multi-feeder protection and control that offers
        • increased selectivity and effective change management of substation protection and control for increased system availability
        • power management and busbar protection to the substation level
        • better monitoring of energy flow
        • flexibility for different protection philosophies for every feeder depending on requirements
        • the option of easily upgrading or adding new protection functions


Customer benefits

ABB Ability benefits customers on numerous levels. Ecologically, energy measurement gauges carbon emissions with real-time efficiency estimation tools to track results for energy reduction initiatives, using advanced analytics and services. Real-time energy consumption prediction tracks patterns and anticipates peak demands so that power distribution can be adjusted and failures reduced. Distributed generation from alternative energies such as wind and solar power is better integrated, increasing protection against electrical failures and improving relocation of the generated energy to where the demand comes from.

Thanks to data collection across networks, analytics are able to provide a better understanding of faults with a bigger picture of the grid, streamlining predictive asset management. This can also potentially be used to more accurately set substation devices across the grid, leading to better SAIDI and SAIFI indexes.

ABB Ability also simplifies maintenance, making it more secure even as it reduces servicing costs. For example, the customer infrastructure can be accessed by remote control under any weather conditions, and public communication networks are utilized in conjunction with specific service level agreements.

In terms of software, the product package offers a wide range of features. With a collaborative platform for self-evolving ABB software applications and customizations, customers can run their own applications. Real-time applications for fault detection, isolation, restoration and load-shedding run in the cloud and execute actions locally at the substation using IEC 61850.

Security is improved by the simplification of “last mile” communication to substation devices, which avoids complex redundant topologies and wire failures. High-level redundancy is provided by a virtual cloud machine that works in parallel as a shared process using Microsoft Azure on several computers at the same time.


With ABB Ability, we are building pioneering, future-proof products customers can immediately recognize as beneficial to their needs. It is the clear choice for all sectors – from industrial clients to commercial and residential consumers.

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About the author

Padmasri Krishnamurthy

I have over 25 years of global experience in the power industry with an extensive background in new product introductions and product strategy, solution architecture and layout, development projects and business development in application and technology. Currently, I am the Digital Leader for the Medium Voltage Products business unit responsible for developing the business’ ABB Ability offering. I have always been fascinated by technology, specifically, software and how they can make people’s lives better. Painting and sketching re-energizes me in my downtime.
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