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We live in interesting times! As we worry about the rise of protectionism, we are also optimistic about the surface of technologies that are taking down barriers and create one collaborative global entity of connected people and devices through decentralization.
A key global business risk which continues is the uncertainty regarding economic policies led by increasing trend of protectionism. According to a World Bank report outlining trade growth numbers, protectionism was responsible for a 0.6-percentage point drop or three-quarter of the total drop of 0.8 percent in 2016 from the previous year.
Below are four technology trends, which already are taking down economic barriers and are expected to make openness between nations more sustainable.
Remote monitoring and location agnostic manufacturing One of the greatest advantages of the fourth industrial revolution is that productivity enhancement with a focus on better quality and less downtime has become location agnostic. Aging assets, disruptive digitalization, rapidly falling sensor costs and the creation of new business models have led utilities and companies in the infrastructure and transportation to reassess their assets and how they can be used to increase productivity.
You could be a power plant owner, the head of a global shipping company or a car maker in Germany, the concept of remote monitoring enables your operations or assets to be monitored and analyzed remotely with different levels of supervision and management executed simultaneously. The data collected at every stage can yield insights to recommend further improvements. This can be done from anywhere in the world between companies and their supply chains, dissolving geographic and industrial barriers. The ultimate aim would be to create collaborative models of efficiency between companies, which can be replicated across industries and sectors. With time, as issues of cyber security and IP are better addressed, this is one technology which will underscore our efforts of dissolving boundaries and democratizing markets.
Connecting power transmission superhighways
The popularity of renewables caused a revival of technology at high and ultra-high voltages to transport clean energy from distant solar plants or wind farms to urban areas at minimal losses of energy. This was necessary as the space required by large scale solar plants or wind farms could not be accommodated in already crowded cities. These super powered lines can now carry up to 10000 MW of power which is equivalent to the average monthly peak load of some European countries. These power super highways can then be interconnected to facilitate power trading and balance demand peaks. They can also help maximize the utilization of renewables e.g. wind and hydro as is the case of the HVDC link between Norway and Netherlands. While this web of energy exchange and balance is already happening in Europe, the scale could be much bigger for Asia and even cross-continental in the near future. The success of such technology driving energy exchanges, which don’t care about borders will be defined by the political will and the imperative for wind or solar-rich regions to be integrated with the power-hungry areas to meet COP targets without compromising on growth. In doing so, the technology will have to break through geopolitical barriers in an age of resource nationalism for greater common good and manage the energy trilemma of equitable energy access, energy security and environmental impact mitigation.
Grid Edge technologies
Grid Edge technologies are an important force behind dissolving traditional boundaries between producers, distributers and consumers. Decentralization, electrification and digitalization are the main trends in this area. The trend of decentralization comprises the technology of distributed generation like microgrids while a key driver of electrification is the transportation sector. Below are the two technologies which are the main driving forces behind decentralization and electrification. By their nature they involve greater flexibility and a rethinking of interaction with the grid as well as an open-source model for our transportation networks.
- Microgrids and enriching lives with access to energy: Decentralization is a trend which puts customers at the heart of the technology – the age of the prosumers of electricity redefining how one interacts with it. About 250 million people have no access to electricity in India, over a billion do not have access globally. Microgrid technology is one of the pillars of decentralization which enables people to generate and consume their own electricity and even sell the spare to the grid. This distributed generation model can come as a plug and play option ready to be used by individual houses or mines, hospitals or tech parks and designed with battery back-up or grid connectivity options. It has transformed the linear structure of the grid making it multi-directional. In India, the government’s 24x7 power for all program is a driver for the use of such technologies to enhance access to energy. From railways to experimental planes even electric rickshaws are creating mobile micro and mini-grids to have continuous access to clean energy. With the power to optimize local sources such technologies have been democratizing electricity markets the world over.
- Electric mobility: Emerging markets in addition to developed ones are taking big strides in electric mobility. India has the fourth largest global network of railways globally and passenger vehicles market is expected to more than quadruple to 13.4 million units by 2026. There is a major drive of electrification in the target for vehicles going all electric by 2030 as well as electrification of 4000km of railways this fiscal year. Electric vehicles (EVs) in emerging markets can often function for transportation in the morning and as a power source for a small house in the evening. Concepts of shared mobility could further help in reducing costs of EVs with distributed generation and storage. As per reports, if Asian cities aggressively take up the cause of EVs with shared mobility, expansion of the public transport with certain decentralization and connectivity, by 2030 shared vehicles could contribute to half of the passenger transportation. This shift to an electric future coupled with concepts like shared mobility and setting up requisite infrastructure across locations will entail various stakeholders like transport OEMs, charging and energy storage specialists, town-planners and policymakers working together to realize the potential of an electric future.
In the world of robotics, collaborative robots have redefined the way assembly lines function combining the best of both worlds. Similarly augmented reality (AR) could break boundaries of skill for workers on shop-floors. AR is a technology where the view of the real or physical world is augmented or enhanced through a layer of computer generated outputs. On the industrial front this is often used through connected glasses and camera, which provide the means to augment updates and information about machines and processes. Protecting jobs and skills are often touted as the primary reason for protectionism. In a world where the relevance of the type of skill set is also evolving, AR could be used to assist experienced and new workers to transition to newer jobs. Production lines could become skill agnostic as video/AR tutorials guide walk the shopfloor workers through the process. Or, for example, in this digital age, there can be anywhere between a few dozen to a few hundred data cables in a vent. Visiting maintenance staff can easily identify the problem cable if guided by a digital twin of the schematics on a mobile device he carries around the site.
The digital interface over the physical one could be updated as per requirements on the screen mounted on the frames. With touch controls and voice notes, workers can move on to the next steps also with the option of incorporating voice notes, videos, etc. for feedback. If deployed with the right spirit of collaboration with improvement in devices like AR glasses or advent of AR apps in phones, AR could have a democratizing impact on markets for larger emerging economies where the magnitude of skilling for the digital economy is a key concern.
-By Sanjeev Sharma, Managing Director, ABB India