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Social Innovation

Unlocking a Smart, Flexible Grid is the Key to a Green Energy Future

By Alistair Dormer, Executive Vice President, Green Energy and Mobility, Hitachi, Ltd.

When I speak to colleagues and competitors across the globe there is a real sense of momentum around our progress on electrification – this is encouraging to see, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that electrification is only as good as the system which supports it. And at the moment that is somewhat lacking.

Wherever you turn, there is positive progress – from the US embracing the infrastructure supporting electrification to nine European nations coming together to multiply the capacity of offshore wind farms in the North Sea by eight times. But harnessing this momentum requires true integration.

So, whilst the technology alone has the capacity to be transformational, its potential can only be fully unleashed if we invest in the infrastructure which supports it – this means electrifying railways and installing charging plugs for cars. Right at the heart of this is smart mobility, digital solutions that improve and optimise the whole transport system.

In the UK we’ve just completed a collaboration with Royal Mail, Uber, UK Power Networks, Centrica and Scottish and Southern Electricity Network on the world’s largest commercial electric vehicle trial to date through a project called Optimise Prime. This project has delivered vital data which we’re sharing with fleet operators to help inform their decisions about the size of fleet, the size of the charging network, when to charge, and how to manage the battery in your vehicle so that it lasts for the maximum amount of time.

The reality is that if we’re going to move to electricity, we also need to double the size of the grid and build a smart, flexible system which can support an effective transition to wind and solar power because these sources are intermittent – the wind doesn't always blow, and the sun doesn't always shine.

In 2023 we need to turbo-charge our efforts and do so quickly. As a social innovation business, we are committed to accelerating this process, but we can’t do it alone – we need like-minded businesses, governments and nations to roll their sleeves up as time is against us. The grid needs to be at least as effective as the electrification it supports.

From a Hitachi point of view, we are very engaged in the connectivity of renewable energies. We’re currently involved in a number of major projects which are helping to turbo-charge the transition. A good example is the North Sea Link, the world’s longest subsea interconnector, which is linking the UK and Norway and enabling the transition and sharing of green energy between the two countries. Another is our agreement with transmission system operator TenneT to supply multiple offshore and onshore HVDC converter stations and associated infrastructure to accelerate the integration of bulk renewables into European power grids.

But if we want to continue to increase capacity then we need to build many more connections like this, right across Europe and beyond. And the ability to embrace emerging technologies like HVDC systems which allow us to pull power from one place or another is going to be critical.

As I said earlier, if we want to achieve our climate change ambitions then we need the grid needs to be at least as effective as the electrification it supports. Today we have the opportunity to collaborate and ensure we create a smart, flexible grid to power a better future. Let’s make sure we grab it with both hands.