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Systemic Resilience and Open Collaboration: Building Blocks for Carbon-Neutral Energy Systems

Aug. 9, 2021
Front of mind in 2021 is how to build a carbon-neutral society, driven by governmental targets for achieving net-zero carbon within ambitious timeframes.

Electrical energy will be at the crux of a decarbonized future because it is one of the most flexible forms of energy that can be produced and distributed with a low carbon footprint. According to the International Energy Association, electricity will replace other forms of energy by 2040, with an estimated 35% increase[1].

Power systems are becoming increasingly essential in society, and to drive the green transformation, we need to redefine what system resilience means and establish what ecosystems we need to make this a reality. Here, Petri Hovila, program manager for the Green Electrification 2035 program and ABB's contribution to UK Power Networks' Constellation project, and Dr. Jani Valtari, Technology Center manager and head of R&D activities in Finland for ABB's Distribution Solutions Division, explore some of the key drivers that will support the carbon-neutral utility energy systems of the future.

Carbon-neutral energy systems

Valtari explains: "The journey toward a carbon-neutral energy system will be dependent upon extreme flexibility. The shift of focus to renewable power sources and decentralized power generation requires utilities to develop models for integrating these into power systems, with the need to develop energy storage system solutions and sophisticated forecasting."

Electrification powered by a growth in variable renewable power generation brings a host of new challenges associated with an increasingly complex and less predictable grid. The required rate of change in the system will be high and with it, reliability requirements will increase. This poses an obvious challenge for utilities: how can we simultaneously increase the rate of change while improving robustness and reliability?

In ABB's experience, the solution lies in digital technologies and changes in operation mode. New innovative technologies can only be connected to the grid if this doesn't cause a negative effect on systemic resilience. Traditionally, in this realm, resilience has been focused on fault management and IT system security. But what we will start to see emerging is the need for adaptability and updateability of the system, together with new digital platforms that are operating in live mission-critical environments, such as the electricity grid, while being constantly updated and developed.

Making systems resilient

System resilience is of growing importance, and for the first time, we now have the technologies available to realize such platforms, including 5G, virtualized real-time computing, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

"The optimal integration of these technologies is a challenge. And it is clear that no single company alone can address all the evolving needs. In addition to technological integration, business models and divisions of responsibilities in ecosystems are quite complex. Alignment is needed to reach a common understanding and the way forward when faced with, for example, different national and international regulations and data sharing policies," Hovila explains.

Time is of the essence in the move toward carbon-neutrality, and governmental targets are ambitious. One such example is Finland, a small country population-wise, which has set out to leave a small carbon footprint while making a big impression — targeting carbon neutrality by 2035.

At the end of 2020, ABB, in cooperation with Business Finland, launched an R&D program known as Green Electrification 2035. The aim of the five-year program is to develop new integrated technology platforms for optimal generation and use of electricity in a carbon-neutral society. The platforms combine 5G communication technology, data management, new electrical engineering and distribution solutions. In cooperation with R&D and business ecosystem partners, the program will deliver controllable and safe solutions that optimize system-level energy efficiency and reliability.

The platforms developed as a part of Green Electrification 2035 will be used in other projects, such as the Constellation project in the United Kingdom — a smart substation trial. In this project, targeted for completion in 2025, ABB is partnering with Britain's biggest electricity distributor UK Power Networks, which delivers electricity supplies across London and the South East and East of England. A combination of digital substations and 5G technologies will enable UK Power Networks to enhance its network operation.

These new digital substations can analyze millions of datapoints and automatically reconfigure the network to safely enable higher volumes of electricity to flow through it to accept growing levels of renewable energy. The project will see equipment such as virtualized protection and control installed in a series of substations, optimizing the use of the substations and helping to facilitate the rise in renewable energy generation.

As a part of the project, ABB will deliver a software-oriented wide area protection system that uses the 5G telecoms network for communication between substations. The system will be based on IEC 61850 standard and will integrate with other parts of the Constellation project. The scheme will enable real-time monitoring and control of distributed energy resources (DERs) such as wind and solar farms.

UK Power Networks' new approach has the potential to unlock 1.4 GW of network capacity and achieve annual savings of 17.8 million tons of CO2 emissions to significantly contribute to the United Kingdom's decarbonization target of bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.


A carbon-neutral society is high on the agenda — and its future is electric. The challenge is enormous and there is an urgent need for safe, smart, and sustainable solutions that will provide resilience and collaboration for generations to come.

Along with encouraging utilities and industries to adopt a holistic approach to power system resilience and reviewing the value of digital platforms, we also


[1] IEA World Energy Outlook 2018

About the Author

Petri Hovila

Petri Hovila is the program manager for the Green Electrification 2035 program and ABB’s contribution to UK Power Networks’ Constellation project.

About the Author

Jani Valtari

Dr. Jani Valtari is the technology center manager, head of R&D activities in Finland for ABB’s Distribution Solutions Division.

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