The Grid Edge of Tomorrow: A Future Focus from Maxine Ghavi of Hitachi Energy

May 12, 2022
The future, full of distributed energy and automation, is a tremendous opportunity, she said. The tools available now make managing the volatility of renewables much easier than in the past.

Attempts at truth are too simple to believe if delivered in faraway platitudes and promises, because really getting there often happens by a complicated route.

This paraphrase of French author George Sand can apply to many things. These days, one could say it applies to all the optimistic promises of combatting climate change by delivering a Net-Zero world, promptly and pretty with a bow on it, sometime around New Year’s day, 2050.

Yet anyone actually dealing with this hopeful, three-decade path to a cleaner world knows it’s almost unfathomably complicated. It involves unwavering faith, converting many skeptics to that faith, making some compromises, use every arrow you've got in your quiver now, hope for the promise of later and even greater technologies to empower it further and, not the least of which, bazillions of dollars, Francs, Euros and any other currency you can think of.

But the true believers out there are most effective when they can cast expert eyes toward the prize and offer a general map on how to get there. Maxine Ghavi, senior vice president & head of grid edge solutions with Hitachi Energy is certainly an expert with years of engagement in microgrids, distributed energy, battery storage, digitalization, renewables and grid-edge advancements.

In a chat with EnergyTech recently, Ghavi outlined her thoughts on the many paths forward, what’s happening right now and how we got there. She is quite excited about the growth in adoption of microgrids particularly as a sort of melting pot for both sustainability and resiliency objectives.

“We've been doing microgrids more than 30 years, even before that became a mainstream term,” Ghavi pointed out. “What has enabled the growth of microgrids (now) is the need for resiliency—and that continues to increase, especially in relation to the impacts of climate change such as storms, fires, natural disasters. . . and the cybersecurity threat (to main grids). The microgrid also helps with resiliency there, too.”

One could say microgrids can be any on-site dedicated resource which previously was mainly fossil-fueled generator sets. These days, however, microgrids often involve generators only as the backup’s backup while C&I sector and mission critical customers seek sustainable solutions with solar, battery storage and building efficiency investments.

They have grown in scale and deployment and thus more economic viable especially when weighed against the financial impact of long-term power loss and catastrophic disruption.

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Ghavi was a microgrid-sector executive with ABB and came onboard when Japanese-based Hitachi Energy acquired the Swiss company’s grids business a few years ago in a deal now completed and estimated by some reports as worth about $11 billion.

She is a passionate believer in the cause of reaching Net-Zero carbon emissions in the industrial and power sectors by 2050, and points to the combination of renewable energy, battery storage and digitalization as the tools to get there.

These distributed energy resources bring more capacity and operational technology to the grid’s edge, both in front and behind the meter.

The edge is a term implying potential unknown benefits and risks.Ghavi sees the grid edge as a gold mine in terms of reaching sustainability goals.

“My gosh, it’s a tremendous opportunity,” she said. “When we’re looking at the deployment of distributed energy resources, that’s been going on for quite some time. There were a lot of concerns over the deployment of distributed solar and wind (and how those intermittent assets would impact stability on the grid).

“Quite frankly, today we’re able to manage all of that much better.”

Energy storage certainly helps. It may be the ultimate game changer, providing some frequency response and grid stability abilities into microgrid and solar or wind projects. This large-scale batteries and automated tools, she added, puts operators and energy managers “in a much better position to manage volatility of renewables and the impact of volatility on the grid.”

The biggest challenge of the near future probably will be the electrification of the transportation sector. Nearly everyone in the industry says it’s coming, but so what? The question only question that matters is how utilities, EV makers, charging infrastructure firms, not to leave out C&I and individual customers, can make it work and relieve range and capacity worries.

The new energy future, including microgrids and EV infrastructure, “is part of a bigger ecosystem, so there’s a lot of things you have to address,” Ghavi said. “There is the intersection of industry, transportation, electrification, for so many different applications. “How are you doing to deploy e-mobility without taking energiy management into consideration?”

Meeting those needs to facilitate full-on decarbonization will take maybe all of the carbon-lowering strategies and resources available. The renewables need energy storage assets as EV charging locations need responsive grid capacities as microgrids need artificial intelligence as data analytics needs human beings who can make sense of it all.

“From my perspective, the problem we’re trying to solve in the energy sector and the energy transition is not one-dimensional,” Ghavi said. “It really is multi-dimensional.”