100 days in ABB Digital: Roasted duck tongues and high-pressure drum boilers

Some reflections on my first three months as the Digital Lead of ABB Power Generation & Water and on the state of digital in the power generation industry.

I want to share some reflections on my first three months as the Digital Lead of ABB Power Generation & Water and on the state of digital in the power generation industry. Lots of folks from my network have reached out to ask how I find ABB and what I have been working on. I am happy to report that after three months I am still having lots of fun. I say fun because I love to work on big challenges, have an opportunity to innovate and work with smart people I can learn from.

During this time, I have seen first hand what a truly global company ABB is. At ABB Customer World in China in June, I discovered how closely ABB has worked with Chinese power generation companies over the past 30 years. I was fortunate to spend time with pioneering power generators there and hear about their adoption of digital. And I was intrigued to try roasted duck tongues for the first time (check them out in the picture, pretty tasty)! Whichever country I have visited, I have been impressed with ABB’s technical expertise and its deep relationships with local customers.

I am reminded that in digital, collaboration and partnership are prerequisites for innovation. When I look at the ABB portfolio of digital solutions, the years of strong customer engagement are evident. While helping companies find answers to their biggest operational challenges, ABB has also been developing its digital portfolio. As a result, ABB has many digital solutions that have provided real economic and operational value for customers. These include virtual power pools and the use of big data and analytics to halt water leakages in Ho Chi Minh City, among many others.

I am heartened that customers see digital as a means to thrive in the power industry’s transformation. The power industry is still catching up with the challenges of deregulation, wholesale markets, stringent environmental and security requirements, and distributed energy resources. These changes have turned traditional business value streams and asset utilization models on their heads. This process of massive change is not over yet. As recently as August, the United States’ Department of Energy declared “The U.S. electricity industry is facing unprecedented changes,” citing among many forces, how low natural gas prices have restricted economic recovery for traditional baseload capacity. In short, there is no shortage of challenges to solve.

I have grown even more excited about what we can accomplish together. I think most power generators are fighting the good fight to stay competitive in new market conditions, restructuring asset portfolios, exploring new revenue streams and making their processes leaner. From their partners on their digital journey, they are anxious to hear how we can help solve their main challenges:

  • Managing interim market complexity
  • Retaining expertise and doing more with fewer people
  • Using operational flexibility to maximize profitability

while achieving the same level of plant safety and availability.

Harnessing the benefits of digital also requires knowledge of the finer details of industry expertise. Customers want to move from hypothetical discussions about the cloud or potential architectures to real problem-solving. As digital partners we not only have to understand data requirements, architecture and cyber security standards, we also need to dig into the details about ramp rates and high-pressure steam drum trips.

In the past three months, it has been exciting to see how power generators are using digital to find new business models to succeed despite market complexity. If your company is looking at ways to grow in the current power generation market, please reach out…. I am up for the challenge.

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About the author

Susan Peterson

Susan Peterson-Sturm was recently (May 2017) appointed digital lead of BU Power Generation & Water within the Industrial Automation division. She is an industrial control leader with 15 years’ experience working with energy companies to securely and efficiently scale digital solutions for industrial enterprise. Prior to joining ABB, Susan spent 10 years in various roles at GE developing, launching and operating software and security solution product lines. Susan began her career working for both regulated and independent power generation companies in the US, Europe and Latin America in finance, operations and trading capacities. She is an active member of industrial control regulatory and standards development work groups.
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