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Husain: “Cutting-edge technology for a networked Europe”

by Davide Canevari

from Copenhagen

Bazmi Husain, responsabile area smart grid di ABBThe technology exists. This condition however, while necessary, is not
in itself
sufficient
. As with other technologies, whether smart grids
(a subject already covered
in the special feature dedicated to
Networks and Infrastructure, published in issue # 2-2009 of Nuova Energia) achieve complete success or, on the contrary, find it slower and harder to win the markets may depend on politicians (and economists) more than on engineers.
In other words, finance and geopolitics seem to be the key factors, while from a strictly technical point of view the current state
of the art is already considering smart grids as a safe investment.
During the
Nordic Climate Solutions meeting, held in mid-September in Copenhagen and attended by over 1,000 industry experts, policy makers, researchers, and CEOs of the major North European energy companies, all gathered to provide support in terms of viable solutions in view of COP15 scheduled in December 2009, Nuova Energia interviewed Bazmi Husain, Head of ABB’s Smart Grid business.

Like others before him, José Barroso has recently pointed out Europe’s need for a new ‘super grid’. Don’t you think that, before thinking about possible interconnections of the future, Europe should set up a common energy policy for the present?
In my view, the two aspects are not in competition or conflict with each other. Today, Europe is essentially divided into four synchronized areas; the possibility of developing renewable sources varies widely from one area to the other, because of different degrees of windiness or exposure to solar radiation. Additionally, each individual portion of the Old Continent has to be prepared to handle its own peak loads (which, in actual practice, only happens in about 3-4 per cent of the time). This means that the existing systems are oversized, as well as partially unbalanced. In the long term, a more advanced and extensive network would help to reduce the imbalance and oversizing, to bring different areas closer together, and ultimately to make European energy more consistent and united.

Do you think that the global economic crisis may affect the development of smart grid projects?
It has definitely had an impact. But in both directions. On the one hand, it cannot be denied that the world recession has caused many Countries to slow down on previously adopted development programmes, and this has had effects on the transmission industry. However, these impacts have been smaller than those suffered by other sectors of the economy. On the other hand, new projects have sprung from the crisis itself. Some governments have adopted significant measures to boost and support the economy; these plans are often in favour of new infrastructure projects in the energy sector.

In early September, media stories have suggested that Europe may cut off aid to Africa. Do you think that this decision may have negative effects on plans to interconnect the two shores of the Mediterranean?
Regardless of the decisions made here and now, connecting Africa (a potential large producer of renewable energies) and Europe (a continent anxious to use those energies) remains a winning idea. However, it should be viewed in a long-term perspective. The end result may perhaps turn out to be somewhat different from the way we thought of it until yesterday, but in prospect the direction is the correct one.

What is the position of European companies’ technology today, relative to the large global competitors?
In the interconnections sector, Europe is definitely in the leading edge. One reason is the fact that laws on green power lines have been issued earlier than in the rest of the world. This allowed companies to develop new technologies and conduct research with adequate support.

How about potential security problems once we have increasingly powerful and complex networks? A terrorist attack against a single facility could plunge a whole Country into darkness…
The issue of security is overwhelmingly important for structures of this type. They need to be protected, not only from possible criminal actions, but also from simple human errors. This is why in designing a new network we consider security not as value added but as an essential prerequisite. Our company is strongly committed to these issues, but I certainly don’t want them to become some kind of “challenge”. Maybe this is why the less said, the better…

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