As power grids evolve to meet the rapidly changing needs of dynamic modern societies, what are the big ideas that will help make the power supply stronger, greener and more resilient? Who will lead these trends? And what can we do to ensure great ideas are put into practice? In this episode, ADB Ventures' Qiyong Cao and Nuventura's Fabien Lemke reveal key trends that will shape the future of grid technology innovation.

Climatic is ADB Ventures’ series about the innovators who are decarbonizing Asia and the Pacific. It is produced by the Asian Development Bank and ADB Ventures with financial support from the Climate Investment Funds’ Clean Technology Fund program. The latest Climatic video series features interviews with innovators, investors, and infrastructure operators who are working to make electricity grids stronger, greener, and more resilient.


Linh Thai  00:05

In this episode of Climatic, we're looking into the future of grid tech innovation. What are the big ideas that will help make our power supply greener and more resilient? Who will be leading these trends? And how do we make sure great ideas make it to market? Joining me once again are Fabien Lemke, co-founder at Nuventura, and Qiyong Cao, a senior investment specialist at ADB Ventures. Welcome to you both. Fabien, let's start with you. Briefly, what are the key trends that you think will shape the way our grids operate in the coming years?

Fabien Lemke  00:36

So there's a couple of megatrends, I would say, that are happening in the electrical grid. So one of them is decentralization of electrical supply. The second one is grid automation, which means that all the switching that is happening in the grid, organizing the power flows, has to be automated, while today it's much more manual. And then we want to have something like really green grids, grids that have the lowest possible emissions. I think these are the trends that we're really seeing.

Linh Thai  01:10

Qiyong, do you agree with the areas that Fabien just outlined? Are these the innovations where you're seeing the most opportunity for investment at the moment?

Qiyong Cao  01:17

Yes, I think I totally agree with the three big areas like Fabian just identified. Of course, maybe I can rephrase or look a slightly different dimension; I will say the grid needs to be smarter, stronger and greener. So I think it's the three areas, we definitely see a lot of a novel technology and solutions in these three areas such as smart metering sensors in technology, AI, IoT-related applications in the grid, and even EV charging can also be an interesting supplier to decentralize power generation.

Linh Thai  01:58

We all agree that grid tech is moving towards the key areas of decentralization, digitization and fully green power. Fabien, can you explain in some more detail how these innovations are being implemented, and what that means for the way our grids operate?

Fabien Lemke  02:12

Starting with the decentralization, it's kind of obvious. In the past, we had these large power plants which were producing energy and supplying into the grid, there was basically one flow of electricity from the big sources to the consumers. And today, we have a lot of decentralization, small solar PV plants, wind farms, that are all feeding into the grid at different places. And that means that the power flow is bi-directional; we're going to see that even more when electric vehicles start to supply power to the grid in peak demand times and charge during the night when the peak supply is over. So this all means we need to have a much smarter grid, there's going to be a lot more control of the power flow and also monitoring it, and maybe reacting through changing how the grid is switched so that the power flows in a different way. So basically managing the load. And that brings us actually to this aspect of automation. We have a lot more that needs to be managed, and this cannot be done manually anymore. So all the components in that grid, specifically switch gear, for example, they have to be managed by some sort of automated system that can, in such a decentralized grid, influence the power flow, and that makes the right decisions. And for this, it needs to be possible, for example, to remote switch such switch gears, which today is, in many cases, not the case, in fact, so this would have to be done manually. Now, in the the last aspect, fully green grids, or full green power is maybe a better term, that means that where we want to be is that we use fully renewable sources of energy. So wind, solar, geothermal, whatever it is. But then the energy also needs to end up with the consumer. And right now, our current grids aren't fully green. And one of that aspects is, of course, that we're using SF6 in our switch gears, and SF6 is the strongest greenhouse gas. So if we really want to get to zero emissions, then we need to change the grid as well, and we need to step away from that technology and get into a more sustainable technology.

Linh Thai  04:32

Thanks Fabien. A pretty comprehensive overview of how our grid systems are evolving. Coming to you, Qiyong. This is all great in theory, but how quickly are these changes likely to happen? How do innovative young startups get their solutions into this market to create the future that Fabien has outlined?

Qiyong Cao  04:49

I think, first of all, to gather the technology and the solutions into any existing industry is challenging. The technology is still early-stage, it's not fully proven by the market, and sometimes the innovation might not be cheaper; actually with the early-stage, smaller scale is more expensive. So this is a common challenge for any innovation. However, this challenge is even harder for grids, because they have to be operating in a very reliable way; stable, long-lasting, stronger. So grids, no matter in any country, you notice a grid is actually managed by government and the corporates with a strict regulation specification. As early safety management, we are not putting in a large investment, but we want to be able to provide support more than capital; we want to provide our business network in different regions, for example in China, in Southeast Asia, in India, and we also want to help them identify potential talents, bring connections in, make introductions, help them to look for new investors.

Linh Thai  06:12

So, even though the trends are moving towards the three key areas of innovation, it doesn't mean that it will be any easier for startups to get their solutions to market without the help of multilateral backers like ADB. Thank you both for your time. That's it for today's discussion, and this series of Climatic. Thank you for joining me as we explored how our power grids are evolving to meet the rapidly changing needs of our dynamic modern societies. Whether it's the integration of renewables, the bi-directional capabilities of EVs, the digitalization across the grid, or the greening of our power, there are many fascinating challenges ahead. But thanks to innovators around the world such as Fabien and the Nuventrua team, solutions are being found that allow grid operators to update the way they work while lowering the environmental impact of our electrical grid system. But these ideas also need to be backed by funding. Investors and the companies that can benefit from these solutions also need to step up and make their mark. That's all for me. Thank you for watching, and until next time, on Climatic.