ABB gets excited about energy management & robots

Branko Miletic talks to Axel Kuhr, Managing Director for ABB in Australia, about where future opportunities lie and what will be the robotics, power and automation company’s focus over the next few years. 
PACE: With the mix of technologies ABB offers, what is the current focus of growth for the company in Australia and how does this compare to the rest of the world?
Axel Kuhr: ABB Australia continues to be a major solution and service provider for power and automation technologies to the utilities, process and manufacturing industries. We are also seeing opportunities for growth in the renewable energy, data centre, transportation and infrastructure sectors. Strengthening our service activities, particularly in the advanced and remote services solutions categories, is a strong focus for us across all the industry sectors we serve.
Our low voltage automation products in the home and commercial space is also seeing some growth, with consumers and businesses more conscious of cost, efficiency and environmental concerns. We have been successful in supporting the awareness of open source KNX technology, a worldwide standard for all applications in home and building controls which provides users with so many more options than the old fashioned c-bus technology. We also recently launched the ABB-Free@Home home automation system to the Australian market and across the globe. This system is easy to install and easy for consumers to manage the heating, lighting and other controls in the home, via a smart device or personal computer. This is really taking off now.
Rail is particularly exciting, with the approval of many rail projects across Australia. Energy management and an advanced asset management software suite have the potential to bring significant environmental and cost benefits to the rail industry. For example capturing normally wasted energy from trains breaking, can be productively applied back into the rail system using solutions such ABB’s wayside substation Energy Recuperation System. Earlier this year, ABB also introduced an Australian-designed range of modular substations. These DC prefabricated rail substations are fully designed, tested and assembled in ABB’s factories, so they can be easily transported and installed.
Although the oil & gas industry is slowing down due to the global overcapacity, it still provides huge potential for us in service and retrofit opportunities. Let us not forget that some of the installations are quite old already and highly utilised, not servicing them properly will yield less output, which would be particularly harmful in Australia’s high cost environment. 
Food and Beverage is another sector that has always interested us and due to recent acquisitions, it is an area that we see great potential for growth. 
Lastly, microgrid technology provides an alternative for network stability and more sustainable electricity generation for remote locations in Australia, but also in countries with a geographic composition similar to Australia. 

PACE: You mention renewable energy is a growing sector for the company. Can you expand on this?
Axel Kuhr: Despite the challenges currently faced within the renewables sector in Australia, ABB sees a tremendous amount of growth potential for the industry in the future. With its huge breadth of offering, covering the entire renewables value chain, from power generation through to transmission and distribution, ABB is well placed to address the specific needs of the Australian market, as renewables become an increasingly important part of the energy mix in the future. In my opinion, the future for renewables will be strongly connected with electrical vehicle charging and making use of car batteries for renewable energy storage. There is a lot of ongoing research in this area.
ABB products are integral to wind, solar, hydro, wave energy projects and EV-charging as well as micro-grid solutions that provide greater energy security for more remote communities. Globally, ABB has spent over $US1 billion in acquisitions in the renewables sector.  

PACE: Is promoting battery-style domestic energy storage an area that ABB is looking to expand into?
Axel Kuhr: ABB has been at the forefront of microgrid technology development. This technology utilises batteries for energy storage. An example of this is the hybrid Grid Energy Storage and Diesel Generation System (GESS) ABB built at the end of last year for AusNet Services for its electricity distribution network in Victoria. 
Earlier this year ABB and Samsung SDI, the leading manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote microgrid solutions globally. Battery storage is fundamental to increasing the utilisation capacity of solar and other renewable energy sources.
As consumers become more conscious and active in their energy choices, and as battery storage becomes cheaper, battery-style energy storage may eventually become a viable option for the consumer. 

PACE: How will ABBs acquisition of CGM impact customers here, if at all?
Axel Kuhr: Buying CGM (a company which provides modern control room design and ergonomic solutions for control rooms) will enable process industry customers’ access to the most up-to-date, ergonomic control room equipment available on the market today. Given the challenges of the aging operator workforces, ergonomic constraints and consolidation of control rooms – ABB can now offer the most modern control room design for Australia’s process industries.

PACE: In terms of robotics, is this an area that ABB finds is becoming more competitive as more players enter the market?
Axel Kuhr: As the market continues to grow, we are seeing many new entrants into the Australian market, both in the industrial robot segment, an area ABB has always been very strong in, but also more recently in the area of collaborative robots. In April of this year, ABB launched its own dual-arm collaborative robot, known as YuMi, to a huge fanfare at the Hannover Fair in Germany. We are looking forward to releasing YuMi to the Australian market over the next few months. In the coming year, ABB will also be launching a complete new range of single-arm collaborative robots. 

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