Charged conversations about climate change and the electricity industry

Over the last year, I’ve attended a number of conferences on climate change. Finding solutions to reduce our carbon footprint and our GhG emissions through technology and collaboration is on absolutely everyone’s business development agenda.

Back in June, I wrote a brief takeaway on this blog of my experiences at the CEM10 in Vancouver, chronicling in part how vital it is that governments, the private sector, and international organizations all come together to discuss the future of energy.

More recently at ABB Campus Montréal, on behalf of my company’s Canadian branch, I had the pleasure of hosting a delegation of European experts, the Renewable Grid Initiative (RGI). RGI is headed by their visionary CEO and founder, Dr. Antonella Battaglini. Her team at RGI was conducting a study in Québec, Ontario and Alberta to meet with Canadian experts and discuss their experiences integrating renewable energy into their grids. The goal: getting off diesel power generation by turning to hydro, solar, wind, tidal, and geothermal energy (“renewables”). Integrating renewable energy into Canada’s energy grids — especially in a locale as geographically vast and diverse as Canada’s — is likely our single most important technological pathway to combatting climate change.

Earlier this September in Vancouver, I attended the very first Global Grid Forum organized by the Edison Electric Institute. Gathering utility chief executives from around the world, most notably from China and the United States, the discussion at GGF addressed the transition of large-scale electrical grids to renewables. Also in attendance was the Global Energy Interconnection Development Corporation of China (GEIDCO), spearheaded by its Chairman Liu Zhenya, which launched its report on North American Renewable Energy. I had the privilege of meeting the report’s presenter, Dr. Gao, and was fascinated by the bold presentation. The report proposes creating ultra-high-voltage direct current connections across international borders. Promoting the acceleration and the increased interconnection of renewable-energy-integrated grids across North America is a must, Zhenya and his researchers argue, to combat climate change.

A photo of myself with Dr. Gao, who gave a fascinating presentation on her research on how we could break down international barriers and connect our massive energy grids together to promote renewables across North America.

The high voltage technology required by ultra-high power energy transmission falls under ABB’s expertise, which has designed and installed the majority of HVDC (High Voltage Direct Current) projects in the world. A HVDC electric power transmission system (sometimes called a power/electrical superhighway) uses direct current to transmit electricity over very long distances, sometimes under oceans. HVDC results in lower energy losses compared to AC over comparable distances. As such, a point-to-point HVDC transmission scheme is generally more cost-effective and can have lower overall investments costs; two big pluses when the key to any infrastructure transition debate usually comes down to the bottom line.

In Canada, ABB completed the Maritime Link project in December 2017. This power superhighway, which travels under the ocean at a depth of up to 470 meters between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland is a 500 MW (megawatt) connection that demonstrates the incredible potential for the integration of renewable energy. The project is on the technological cutting edge, but most importantly is a model for the kind of government and industry cooperation required to properly tackle the oncoming climate crisis.

A photo of the coiled HVDC cables that lie on the ocean floor between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. (Source: Radio-Canada)

Across Canada, provincial utilities are doing important work investigating economic opportunities such as looking into the electrification of transit in urban centers. The challenges are many: ranging from cost to the disruption to their existing operating models, the need for better public transit infrastructure, the rethinking of urban planning, as well as the tangled question of labour, manufacturing and construction.

As a member of the board of the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), I took part in the very first Canadian Low-Carbon Smart Mobility Technology conference in Winnipeg, where we discussed what it’s going to take to electrify transit on a mass scale. The CUTRIC conference in particular looks at the electrification of public buses, as well as low-speed electric autonomous shuttles for first-mile/last-mile transit.

If anything, the past summer has taught me that there are so many facets to the transition to alternative energies, but that all these issues are linked: from creating charging stations for electric cars; to rethinking mass transit; to properly connecting wind power to existing grids; to building the power superhighways that connect us across vast distances, even oceans.

Solving the climate issue is good for business — and just good. We need to build new infrastructures for citizens in all the major urban centers of the planet, as well as look at how we use energy both locally and globally. There are so many opportunities and so much to be done! I see this as an opportunity to peaceful cooperation and constructive dialogue among countries who want to see a safe future for our planet.

All of this also reminds me that ensuring women are included in decision-making roles in this industry is incredibly important to tackle climate change. I’m really proud of our team at ABB, whose incredible work has recently been recognized with the Parity Certification by Women in Governance.

The ABB team receiving the Parity Certificate from Women in Governance this year.

Before I wrap up, I want to share with you this video of Dr. Josipa Petrunic of CUTRIC, who has been leading the charge across Canada since 2010 promoting low-carbon smart mobility:

The journey continues — and all of us have a role to build safe and inclusive strategies for energy, transit and the greening of our cities.

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