ABB visit

Roger Faulkner's visit to ABB Corporate Research in Datwil, September 24, 2010: from left to Right: Markus Abplanalp, Felix Greuter, Willi Paul (host & Executive VP, Corporate Research), Roger Faulkner, Thomas Christen, Alexandre Oudalov

I spent a week with ABB in Zurich (at HQ) and in Datwil (Corporate Research Center) during the week of September 20-24, 2010. The meetings were arranged by Girish Nadkarni, Managing Director of ABB Technology Ventures. He had first emailed me in January, 2010 regarding elpipes, which he had heard about from my September17, 2009 semifinals pitch to the ICE business plan competition (sponsored by MIT Enterprise Forum). This lead to a preliminary meeting with Claes Rytoft (Group Senior Vice President, Power Transmission Division) on May 2, 2009, at MIT. Klaes had given Girish the green light to proceed with a deal; as he put it, he thought the chance of success was low, but the impact if successful of elpipes would be huge, and he thought it wise for ABB to get involved. This lead eventually to a week-long series of meetings in Zurich and Datwil. Girish made it clear that he could not invest unless there was a 3-way consensus between himself, Klaes Rytoft, and Willi Paul (Director of Corporate Research). Willi is pictured above, standing with me after our wrap-up meeting September 24 at ABB Corporate Research.

I have been assimilating all I learned during my visit with ABB; it was an amazing learning experience. Ron Todd prepared the attached Business Case Review that essentially shows we have been drastically underestimating the cost to develop our proposed elpipes. I concede that point, and my honest reason for that is that I am a true believer in the importance of building an HVDC grid as an enabling technology for a carbon-neutral energy future. This is my first and primary motivation. We were not getting traction when we asked VCs for $7 million, so I asked  Ron to work the numbers to give a smaller initial outlay; I see now that was a mistake. Ron's more realistic estimate is $33 million over four years, which I do not dispute (see attached document). Willi was the most open and overtly friendly of all the folks I met, but also he was the lone dissenter who kept ABB from funding my start-up EPC.

Willi's point was that for many, perhaps most underground HVDC implementations greater than 3 GW, GIL lines have significant advantages over elpipes in principle. The tricky parts of his analysis which I see are these points:

  1. Regulatory future of SF6 is in doubt;
  2. Diameter of a GIL line is larger than an equal capacity elpipe;
  3. Rapid access and repair features of an elpipe with wheels as I have proposed are lacking in a GIL line (though I have additional IP that we have not discussed in any detail that deals with this; I did briefly mention this to Willi);
  4. GIL has never been used for HVDC so far;
  5. Siemens and Toshiba are ahead of ABB in this area, since ABB spun off GIL to AZZ.
Since my meetings with ABB in Zurich and Datwil, I have looked into GIL technology much more deeply, working with experts like Professor Michael Muhr of Graz University of Technology in Austria, Hermann Koch of Siemens, and Mel Hopkins of AZZ. The consensus is that GIL could be adapted for HVDC, but that will not be easy, and the pipe diameter for 800kV DC would be very unwieldy: around 1.5 meters in diameter.

No comments:

Post a Comment