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Post Interview November 17, 2021

Wim Boonen & Sydney van Bokhoven

Sydney van Bokhoven, Global Digital Solution Manager E-Mobility, ABB
ABB is a leading global technology company that energizes the transformation of society and industry to achieve a more productive, sustainable future. It delivers smart energy solutions, with its e-mobility business producing charging solutions for electric cars, buses and trucks.
Wim Boonen, CEO at Enervalis
Belgian energy software developer Enervalis helps customers take control of their energy to enable them to reduce CO2, save energy and bring down costs. Its smart energy management software monitors, controls and optimises energy assets such as electric vehicles, heat pumps, HVAC installations and batteries.

ABB Benelux began working with Enervalis in 2015 to develop smart grid solutions in the region. Since then, ABB has acquired 80% of Enervalis’ shares.

What is the ambition for ABB, and your industry, in relation to energy transition?

Sydney: One-third of global pollution is due to transportation. By electrifying the transportation sector, the e-mobility industry can help to reduce greenhouse emissions and accelerate the energy transition. For ABB, our ambition is to provide charging infrastructure solutions suitable for all segments of transport and on a global scale.
We also need to ensure a supply and demand match-up between EVs and charging infrastructure. If there aren’t enough charging stations, the numbers of EVs on the road won’t increase, and vice versa. That’s one of our challenges. The Netherlands, for example, is a front runner in e-mobility with its extensive charging networks. Globally though, there are regions where there is less infrastructure available, which limits sales of electric vehicles.

What role do consumer-owned devices play in the future electricity landscape?

Wim: They play an important role, and our software works to optimise this ecosystem of energy assets. Based on AI and machine learning, our platform enables the smart control of energy carriers such as EVs and their charging facilities, HVAC installations, heat pumps, boilers and batteries. The system gives consumers insight into energy flows and controls, and optimises the energy carriers to, among other things, save costs, maximise self-consumption, and reduce CO2. We combine large numbers of these small energy carriers into one large virtual energy carrier – a bit like a virtual power plant – which we can use to stabilise the grid.
Integrating all these systems and controlling the energy streams between assets and the grid connection is key to keeping the energy network system stable.

There are millions of those distributed energy assets you can use, along with the TSOs, DSOs, aggregators and other players, to help in balancing the grid. You need to be able to control this massive asset pool to make the system work. All these energy assets must be connected to each other, and then connected to the cloud, ready to be pulled out and aggregated.

How do you prepare your organisation for the required change?

Sydney: We’re in the charging infrastructure business, which means we’re already involved in the energy transition. All our EV charging solutions can be digitally connected, but we need to intensify and integrate more technology inside the energy assets so these can be more fully connected and easily aggregated. For organisational change, mindsets must move from purely hardware and digital services into fully digital integrated solutions.
In an effort to support this, we are investigating other business models, and new ways of putting infrastructure into the markets. This would give us more autonomy to do this in a way that we believe is the right way to stimulate the energy transition on a global scale. It’s an important statement of intent and shows our level of ambition.

How do you engage consumers in this change?

Sydney: It comes down to offering products and solutions that fit the needs of consumers and help with the energy transition. We want to offer end-consumers the tools and the means to visualise and optimise their energy consumption and footprint, and give them the opportunity to act on this by making the technology available to them.

What are the biggest challenges in relation to sector coupling?

Wim: In the past, we’ve always had many different – unconnected – energy devices. There’d be an electricity or gas meter reading once a year, and you’d get your bill. Now we need to connect all these devices and use this pool of assets at different levels in the energy system.
This comes with challenges. For example, who is ultimately in charge of standardising how these assets are integrated: governments, OEMs, system operators, grid companies? Who is leading it? We need to know what the drivers are that control all these assets, and the parameters in which they operate.
It’s a regulator’s task to guide how the market is functioning, now and in the future, provide the guidance, constraints and market rules for the energy transition. They are lagging in this respect. We need this at an EU level too, and this discussion is not taking place right now. There is not enough insight into what the electrification of your home and transportation will do on a market level, and the regulations around what is needed to make it work. Equigy, as a neutral player, is doing important work in this space in pushing for a European standard.
Sydney: Of course, the role of aggregators is also crucial. By bringing all these sectors together in a working push and pull of supply and demand, we can really integrate the ecosystem and accelerate the energy transition. The virtual power plant technology is a key part of this sector coupling.

What is the biggest change we will have accomplished by 2035?

Sydney: We hope to see a big change, in that all sales of passenger vehicles and small trucks and vans will be electric. Next to that, we aim that EV charging network will be even more connected, and which will be playing a big role in the electrification of e-mobility and the energy transition as a whole.
Wim: By then, standardisation and the regulatory support we need must be in place at governmental and EU level.

What does the energy transition mean to you?

Sydney: The energy transition and the things we are doing to move this forward for the next generation are so necessary. By participating, we will have a big impact on the next generation, and they will be affected by our actions. I would like to contribute in any way I can – by electrifying mobility and being as conscious as possible.
Wim: I’m a petrol head but also have an EV. My home is 300 years old, so I am challenged by how to get it fit for the energy transition. It’s not possible to get a heat pump, and gas will become more and more expensive in coming years. How do I heat my house? These are things we have to think about…

To increase a broader awareness of the changing energy and industry landscape in relation to the energy transition and use of distributed energy resources to provide services to the grid, we are engaging interviews with a series of frontrunners, visionaries, innovators, and thinkers from the various stakeholders’ roles who can help us visualise and reveal all the: Changing Perspectives

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