The consumer has our energy future in their hands

In the smart cities of tomorrow, it’s consumers who will bring about the energy transition, according to Peter Van Den Heede.

You can catch a glimpse of the future in Zellik,where ABB is one of the driving forces behind the construction of Europe’s largest microgrid.

Microgrids move away from the idea that every home and every company needs its own individual connection to the energy network. They might still have a single shared connection for the street or neighbourhood, or they can go a step further and become partly self-sufficient with solar panels and other renewable energy sources. Grid connected with off grid possibilities, they produce all the energy they use themselves.

ABB is investing heavily in smart grids. Our technology supports the three cornerstones that these grids are built on: the physical components (connected devices at home, electric charging stations, smart meters, batteries for storing energy…), the digital component (automation, cyber security, blockchain solutions, apps for operating smart devices remotely…) and the services (Energy-as-a-Service, Software-as-a-Service…). All these cornerstones and technologies click together perfectly in smart grids.

Belgium measures itself against China and California

Benelux is playing a leading role within ABB in terms of smart cities and smart grids, bundled under Grid Edge Technologies in ABB. We’re the first region where Grid Edge technologies have been launched. And we find ourselves in exalted company with start-ups coming soon in the UK, China and California.

ABB is putting its weight behind Europe’s largest microgrid here in Belgium. A hundred thousand solar panels and three wind turbines will supply the energy required to run the new data centre being built in the green, CO2-neutral ‘energy park’ in Zellik. ABB helped with the feasibility studies for the data centre operating as the hub for the entire park, including for the batteries that will store the energy generated. We’re also providing the option to build a state-of-the-art network connection, and all the devices in the smart city can communicate with each other using our software. Our expertise in Denmark – where we’re the market leader – comes in very handy for us having a major role for the heating network in Zellik.

Largest smart grid in Europe

Over 30 companies are working together on Europe’s largest microgrid in Zellik. These are all exceptionally innovative companies, with core expertise in their respective subdomains. We need to work together to enhance each other’s expertise and ensure it’s a state-of-the-art microgrid project.

Trial projects like the one in Zellik aren’t just very interesting from a technological perspective – technology isn’t a goal in itself; it’s a resource that will lead to a complete revolution in the energy landscape. In the future it will be the consumers rather than the energy suppliers who direct the energy transition.

Several years ago, ABB became one of the first believers in an energy future where consumers seize control in place of producers, where consumers themselves become producers and exchange and sell energy to each other, and where energy is produced in an increasingly decentralised way. Years later and this is now coming to fruition, with the idea of consumers driving the energy transition gaining more and more ground.

Impending power shortage as a wake-up call

Admittedly, all the messages we hear about problems in the Belgian nuclear power stations and impending power shortages are perhaps adding momentum to this future. A couple of weeks ago, when we kicked off our ABB Ability tour – a tour through the Benelux with our innovative solutions for the big challenges of tomorrow – energy was one of the hottest topics. When I asked who in the room was planning to experiment with microgrids, more than half the people put their hands up.

The regulations are still a stumbling block, however. One home (or one company) = one connection; that’s still the rule until further notice. But at ABB we’re certain there will be new possibilities developed around this issue in the future. Companies are leading the way, and consumers have had their wake-up call. The big breakthrough of genuinely smart cities and real smart grids is closer than we think.

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About the author

Peter Van Den Heede

Country Head Of Sales at ABB in Zaventem. Responsible for the Segment growth teams, account managers and business development in the Benelux. One of the 6 focus segments is Smart Cities. With ABB since 2007.
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