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High Voltage Director Current (HVDC) has been attracting attention as a solution that helps turn renewable energies into the main source of power and contributes to the realization of a decarbonized society through the grid interconnection with offshore wind power generation, the long-distance transmission of power to large demand areas, and so on. The Swedish Ludvika Plant, located in the central region of Sweden around 220 km from its capital Stockholm, is the core site of Hitachi Energy, which possesses world-class technologies related to HVDC and boasts a track record of deliveries for projects around the world. The region is also where Elektriska Aktiebolaget Magnet*1, Hitachi Energy's predecessor, was established in 1900 as a company providing electrical and mechanical equipment to industries such as mines and power plants. It was in this location steeped in history where engineers from various countries gather that Kei Norimatsu from Hitachi HVDC Technology spent his days learning about advanced HVDC technology.
The Ludvika Headquarters of Hitachi Energy
Kei took up his new post at the Ludvika Plant in January 2022. Since then, he has been assigned to a department conducting harmonic analysis, and has learned the design and analysis process while working with overseas projects as a Hitachi Energy engineer.
"The work I do here is ongoing work for the VSC-based HVDC project I had been working on in Japan for the Chubu Electric Power Higashi-Shimizu Substation ("Higashi-Shimizu Project," hereafter), and in parallel I am involved with projects that Hitachi Energy is pursuing. I am mainly responsible for offshore wind power generation projects in the UK, in which HVDC is used to transmit electricity generated offshore to the UK mainland. When conducting analyses, I hold discussions with the Denmark-based company that is the customer and the UK-based power transmission and distribution company to share issues and organize how to proceed in the future. The discussions mainly take place online, but sometimes the customer visits us in Ludvika," explains Kei.
"With work on the harmonic analysis of offshore wind networks for which there are still few examples of in Japan, and taking part in discussions with customers overseas, the work I do here and the experiences I've gained have been very inspiring to me as an engineer."
Dogger Bank HVDC Grid Connection (England)
After joining Hitachi, Kei was assigned to the design of embedded systems for car navigation systems at an office in Totsuka. From 2011 he was transferred to the Omika Works, where he worked on simulation studies and evaluations of power system facilities, and conducted research specializing in control parameters. Later, he worked on Hitachi Energy's Higashi-Shimizu Project to introduce VSC-based HVDC, and was responsible for coordinating the system analysis parts of Hitachi HVDC technologies as a system engineer.
"On the Higashi-Shimizu project, I was involved with technical communications between Hitachi Energy and the Japanese power companies that are the customers, including adjustments over analysis specifications. I played the role of bridging the gap between both parties by reviewing the analysis results produced by Hitachi Energy and reporting them."
After gaining roughly two years of experience on the Higashi-Shimizu Project, he began working at the Ludvika Plant to further deepen his knowledge. Did you have any concerns about working overseas for the first time?
"I had already been dealing with the staff at Hitachi Energy online, and I had visited Ludvika several times for business trips, so I quickly became accustomed to the engineers and operations here."
The Ludvika Plant of Hitachi Energy
People from more than 60 countries around the world currently work at the Ludvika Plant. The department to which Kei belongs is made up of members of various nationalities, including Swedish, Indian and Iranian. This multicultural atmosphere is not limited to the workplace; different languages and cultures abound all over the town, but people do not feel particularly inconvenienced in such an environment.
"I've worked with some of team members in Japan, and I feel I've gotten closer with some of the other members by working with them and having lunch together. In Sweden, there is a culture known as Fika*, which is like a snack time in Japan. Around 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. each day, everyone gathers to drink coffee or tea, and to enjoy some snacks while chatting. If you want to deepen exchanges with people here, you do it at lunchtime or during Fika."
It has now been around a year since Kei came to Ludvika. He can be candid with his workplace colleagues, and is enjoying a fulfilling work and private life surrounded by the rich nature of Ludvika, where he enjoys exploring the surrounding forests and countryside by bicycle during the summer, and skating on frozen lakes during the winter.
"The people here arrive at work early in the morning and then enjoy their time off after leaving work at about 4:30 p.m. Most meetings are held in the mornings, and depending on person, they might come in at 5:30 a.m. in the morning and leave early in the afternoon to pick up their kids. Everything is quite flexible like that, it seemed different to Japan at first, but I'm used to it now," explains Kei, who seems to be adapting well to this way of working.
*Swedish coffee break culture where people bring coffee or tea along with snacks and talk amongst colleagues or friends
Fika Time at the Ludvika Office
What first surprised Kei when he began working at the Ludvika Plant were "the sheer number of projects under way, their size, and the large transmission capacities they could handle."
Even amid the growing demand for HVDC worldwide, as the strengthening of interconnections are regarded as particularly effective in Europe, further improvements to interconnections are being planned and implemented. In addition, on the technical side transmission capacities are expanding, and adoption of VSC-based HVDC, which also helps to stabilize AC systems, has become mainstream. In response to this situation, Hitachi Energy has put in place a production system based around the Ludvika Plant, and even now it is proceeding with multiple projects for new VSC-based HVDC installations in parallel.
In a work environment that could be described as at the forefront of HVDC, Kei finds it very rewarding as an engineer every time when he comes across new issues.
"As I am involved with various projects, they also produce all kinds of new issues, and the process of discussing those issues with project members and thinking of measures to deal with them is interesting. There are often cases in Japan where a new issue comes up, and when you look into it, you find that it has happened before, but here, we also encounter entirely new issues."
HVDC Light® from Hitachi Energy
The introduction of HVDC is proceeding at a faster rate overseas, and its operational track record is expanding. Kei says there are no technical issues with its application in Japan.
"With Japanese projects, before an order is placed the manufacturer enters a process of responding to the customer about what it can and cannot do, and if technical discussions at that stage can be done properly, there shouldn't be issues or discrepancies. But since we have to deal with differences in business practices and coordination with domestic Japanese standards and existing sites, communication with the customer ends up being important."
For example, overseas there has been progress in the application of international standards (IEC, etc.) and the standardization of device design is also advanced. By combining those devices to design a system, project lead time can be shortened, leading to cost reductions. But Japan has its own domestic standards and needs to consider factors such as installation space and take measures to deal with the climate and earthquakes. This makes standardization more difficult and creates a need for unique specifications. In addition, detailed technical explanations and evidence are sometimes required for the equipment ordered from suppliers.
With his understanding of the differences in how these systems are approached and worked with, Kei sees that as the greatest challenge. "The question is how to explain the requests coming from Japan and the intent behind their inquiries to overseas engineers and suppliers, and how to elicit detailed explanations in response. And the next question is whether you can explain the system and device specifications as well as factors such as cost to Japanese customers and gain their understanding."
To solve those issues, Kei says he is working on gaining the ability to explain things more logically.
“When I was working on the Higashi-Shimizu Project in Japan, I was playing a coordinating role between the engineers at Ludvika and the customer. For example, when I would be asked from the Ludvika side about the intent behind a question or inquiry from the customer, there would be times when I would be able to explain properly by taking into account differences in customs, but other times when I thought it would be difficult to explain something to Japanese customers. I think that was because my own way of thinking was not logical.”
“In the process of working with overseas engineers in Ludvika and gaining experience, Kei became more keenly aware of the need for logical explanations whether those are for technical issues or differences in cultures or customs.”
"By grasping the design process and the details of research and development, and deepening my understanding of those aspects, I've made an effort to be able to explain things to technically-minded Japanese customers in convincing ways. It also takes patience, but with this approach I think I can drive more efficient progress on Japanese projects as well."
In response to the trend of decarbonization picking up pace around the world, policies promoting the introduction of renewable energies are also appearing in Japan. HVDC is a technology that will help make those renewable energies a main source of power.
"Hitachi Energy has an extensive operational track record of VSC-based HVDC projects with large capacities not yet seen in Japan. Based on that wealth of experience, we can identify and minimize the potential risks during the technical study phases for the large-scale offshore window power generation plans of Japanese customers. I also believe we can shorten project lead times."
Kei's belief lies in his realization of the value that Hitachi Energy's technologies and experience can bring to the expansion of HVDC in Japan.
"Even with the trend of engineers' jobs becoming segmented due to rising demand for HVDC introduction, I hope to be an engineer that can develop better proposals and considerations by taking the processes of an entire project into account," says Kei. "By having Hitachi and Hitachi Energy deepen their mutual understanding of one another and strengthening coordination, I hope we can contribute to future projects and Japanese customers."
As he continues to gain experience in Ludvika, Kei's gaze is toward the future.
At the Headquarters of Hitachi Energy in Ludvika, Sweden