A Researcher’s Passion to Contribute to Decarbonization Through Cutting-edge Transformers
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As the climate crisis becomes an ever-greater threat, researchers from companies and universities around the world are tackling the development of technologies to achieve decarbonization. Valentina Valori from Hitachi Energy is one of the trailblazers at the Hitachi Group.
Until January 2023, she was developing environment-friendly power transformers, serving as R&D Technology Center manager. Now she supports new product portfolio development as Global Product manager for Small and Medium Power Transformers in Monselice, northern Italy. We interviewed her to find out what kind of research Valentina is involved in.
Developing environment-friendly transformers
-- Firstly, what is your current job?
Valentina Valori: Until January this year, I was in charge of one research business center for developing power transformer technology. In February 2023, I started a new exciting professional journey. I now support the Small and Medium Power transformers product portfolio definition and rationale behind R&D investment. After several years of learning and contributing to "what" we develop, I'm now working on the "why" of this incredible journey.
Power Transformers are key products for Hitachi Energy. Electricity voltage needs to be adjusted according to where it is being used, either in homes or factories, railroads, and other facilities. Transformers installed at substations make this possible, as they convert electricity to higher or lower voltages. Transformers are everywhere, from generation to distribution to final end-user utilization. I mainly focus on power transformers connected with electricity generation and transportation along the grid.
-- What specific research topics are you working on?
Valentina: For instance, I am contributing to the research on reducing power loss from transformers. Transformers are one of the most efficient components in the electricity transmission and distribution network at efficiency values greater than 99 %. With millions of transformers installed worldwide, around 5 % of global electricity is consumed by transformers due to no-load and load energy losses, resulting in hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 emissions yearly.
Therefore, among other topics backcasting sustainability issues, R&D team is also studying methods to accurately measure power loss and developing models to predict transformer power losses using cutting-edge technologies such as machine learning and AI.
-- What other projects are you involved in?
Valentina: As Hitachi Energy transformers are designed with longevity in mind, we launched a deep study on Transformer's decommissioning process. As this is the end of a product lifecycle, it is necessary to dismantle and recover materials safely and environmentally responsibly. This is especially important in consideration that the world is only 9% circular, which means a huge potential to increase resource efficiency. Therefore, in contribution to a regenerative growth model that gives back to the planet more than it consumes, decommissioning efforts should contribute, as best as possible, to a climate-neutral and resource-efficient economy.
To improve power transformers' sustainability, R&D is committed to reducing waste and increasing the circularity of the components and systems after decommissioning. Our goal is to provide customers with a transparent, knowledge-based approach that enables the efficient and safe recovery of materials contained in products.
Noise pollution is also a key concern. Anyone familiar with the world of electricity knows that transformers make a typical humming noise produced by several different vibrating parts of the transformers. Noise pollution impacts millions of people daily and can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep disturbances, and stress. As Hitachi Energy is committed to a sustainable environment and improving social well-being, R&D has developed several noise damping devices. Lately, our R&D team in Italy reduced load noise by about 5 decibels into a customer unit. To finally prove we can replicate this important noise reduction in a consistent way, it is currently in plan to develop a 3D simulation to validate results achieved.
Immersing myself in math and physics
-- Why did you want to become a researcher?
Valentina: Ever since I was a child, I have had a logical, rational personality, and I always wanted everything to be in the correct and perfect order. For this reason, mathematics and physics have always been at the center of my interest.
At university, I had to balance my genuine passion for physics and math with a strong need and desire to start working as soon as I graduated. I chose electrical engineering, which perfectly combines physics and industry applications. Almost straight out of college, after a couple of years in software’s industry, I joined Hitachi Energy (then ABB), a leading electrical power equipment manufacturer.
After joining the company in 2004, I worked my way up, starting in the engineering department, and one year after, I got my first R&D assignment in USA (North Carolina). Working on the platform development, I oversaw and implemented the cooling formulas for Small Power Transformers. I came back to Italy and joined engineering. Then, I held different positions in marketing and customer projects. Since I could not give up my desire to immerse myself in mathematics and physics, I returned to global engineering after a few years. Five years ago, I moved back to R&D.
I'm an engineer, curious, love my planet, and feel a strong sense of duty to adopt my internal energy for a better world. Those ingredients drove me to the best work an engineer could do, research and development.
-- Do you have any concerns about the low percentage of women in the STEM field?
Valentina: Our industry still has a long way to go regarding gender diversity. Things are changing as more girls take STEM at college or university. However, I have never felt uneasy about it because Hitachi Energy has a multinational workforce with offices worldwide.
Nevertheless, it is still important to promote diversity even further. Our company is very active in approaching the younger generation (even at primary schools!) to promote the beauty of STEM disciplines, career opportunities, and the value that diverse contributions can bring to society. I also was an ambassador of this important Hitachi Energy initiative in Italy last year. Hitachi Energy is very conscious of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and aims to increase female presence to 25% in 2025 as part of its Diversity 360 journey
Embracing diversity implies openness. Open mindset is also the trigger for creativity. Being exposed and trained to accept differences, learning from other languages, genders, culture, approach to problems, perspectives… is the true sparkle of value creation. I fully support the idea that R&D essence is the ability of back casting signs from future. But to do that, you need an open mind.
Today is the biggest chance for R&D
-- What is rewarding about your current job?
Valentina: I am proud to be involved in work that contributes to decarbonization and that makes our society more prosperous and sustainable. In the past, our priority was to improve the functionality of our products in response to customer feedback, but now we have a much bigger objective in front of us: achieving carbon neutrality. As the demand for new technological development is increasing, I don't think there is a better time for the R&D profession to shine.
-- Where do you want your career to go in the future?
Valentina: To be honest, I don't have a concrete plan when it comes to career path. However, I'm sure that in the next years I will still be working in connection with technology, and I will always be learning new things and absorbing knowledge. This together with passion and commitment to get things well done, is truly the best remuneration for me in a working life.