Energy distribution; the power of emerging technologies

Callisto Gatti explores how we are harnessing new digital technologies to give power distribution customers greater control over their ecosystems

When you are dealing with the distribution of energy, safety is the main priority. As well as preserving the health of people, we help our customers to keep their electrical equipment in good health. That is why, when it comes to digital transformation it is people, their needs and their safety, that are at the center of our approach.

Our customers increasingly expect to interact with ABB’s technology solutions and services in the same way they access information in their private lives, using mobile phones and cloud applications.

Digitalization allows customers to do just that; it gives them a more direct connection with their electrical equipment, where real-time data on the health and operational status of their assets is always close at hand. This enables optimized decisions and increased availability of assets along the whole lifecycle.

For over 100 years a lot of time and energy has been invested in perfecting the traditional technologies at the heart of our sector. Until recently improvements were made through materials and electromechanics.

Digital Transformation

Today, new technologies allow us to transform how we interact with customers, with a new product experience and improved class of services. With advances in digital technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud computing and Augmented Reality (AR) we are empowering humans and transforming the way we all work, live and play. In this way, digital transformation is really a cultural transformation.

And it is our deep knowledge of electrical equipment and the distribution of electricity across the power network which is at the core of our digital transformation.

With the shift to digitalization comes a huge increase in the amount of data in the world. We are uniquely placed to transform these massive and variegated data-generated by products and solutions into actionable insights for customers.

Customers want to increase availability of their electrical equipment and avoid unplanned downtime which might cause significant losses in terms of profits and reputation. Through digitalization we give customers greater control over their ecosystems, bringing a seamless interaction throughout the entire product lifecycle, from the moment customers buy our products1, to when we deliver, commission or support them. Digitalization improves the availability of electrical equipment, optimizes maintenance, and enhances safety and sustainability.

Emerging Technologies

The use of AR further extends the product experience and supports customer and service operations. Think about an ABB technician in the field who encounters a problem with a switchgear which needs more specialist expertise. With AR, they can point to the hot spot with their phone and the expert will remotely see exactly what they see. This allows them to virtually interact with the switchgear, attaching labels and remarks without being in the same location or country. In this context, we launched a new Remote Assistance based on Augmented Reality infrastructure in March 2020. In the current climate, this enhances customer safety and overcomes new social challenges like travel restrictions, while reducing the costs, the risks and environmental impacts of travelling.

In another step AI will amplify the human experience by enhancing understanding, efficiency and thus the capability to make optimized decisions. This is called augmented intelligence and in the future it will assist customers and service engineers when planning the next maintenance date of a switchgear (predictive maintenance). It will suggest the right time to retrofit a circuit breaker and will recommend corrective measures when the risk of power outage rises. AR and AI together will also enable virtual assistants to support personnel in the field with a verbal interaction in the local language.

Connecting the dots with research

I spend lots of time collaborating with ABB Research Centers across the globe, which develop innovative technologies for future generations of products. I define priorities for the research programs and establish collaboration with product development teams which will eventually use these new technologies.

As a recent example, ABB Ability™ Condition Monitoring for switchgear -SWICOM with the new PDCOM sensor monitors partial discharges in switchgear. This solution uses a combination of different technologies, including sensing, analytics and data management, to detect potential insulation deterioration before evolving into an arc flash, to push safety standards even further.

We are constantly searching for emerging technologies that will shape future generations. We are also in contact with startups through our SynerLeap program which aims to ignite innovation offering mentoring and investments to help startups accelerate and expand.

And what does the future hold? Over the next five years, I believe that we will find more room to innovate solutions for both people and our planet. As customers tackle greater sustainability targets set by governments, our eco-efficient solutions, like AirPlus™ gas-insulated switchgear, will be paired with optimized product lifecycle management enabled by digital solutions to create a more sustainable future for all.

1: ABB Ability Marketplace: 

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About the author

Callisto Gatti

Callisto Gatti works as a Global Technology Manager for ABB Distribution Solutions in the area of Service, Software and Analytics. He has taken part as a developer and project manager in many international projects in ABB. He has been promoter of several research programs in the ABB Research Centers. He has a master’s degree in Electronic Engineering from Polytechnic of Milan with a major in Automation Technologies. He began his career with ABB in R&D in Italy in 2001 in the area of Distribution Automation.
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