Reinventing electricity – one step at a time

As the energy sector is changing dramatically, there is a case for taking risks, experimenting, and failing fast, when creating the future of electricity.

  • Published: 14. November 2023
  • Company: inContext
Electification illustraation photo

There is no time to sit back and wait for the perfect solution, says Per Fernlund, head of operations at Swedish wire harness expert inContext, a Data Respons subsidiary. While the electricity sector is transforming on all levels when it comes to production, storage, distribution, and consumption, we must realize that there will be both hits and misses on the journey towards the green energy system of the future. We must be ready to take risks to achieve our goal. Not least, as many of the decisions we must take should have been taken decades ago, according to Fernlund.

inContext is a creative beehive of young, talented engineers, and they are playing their part in reinventing electricity. Specialized in wire harnesses for the automotive industry, they integrate electric drivetrains into trucks and buses, including advanced charging technology and regenerative braking systems.

They work on autonomous vehicles, connecting the “brain” of the autonomous vehicle functions with on-board sensors, like radar, lidar, cameras etc., and integrating the functions into the infrastructure of the vehicle. And on top of that, they enable the use of electricity for new purposes, like motorboats, for instance creating the wiring of a hi-tech electric luxury cruiser on hydrofoils.


Profound change

Photo of Per Fernlund
Photo of Per Fernlund, Head of Operations at InContext.

These three examples illustrate quite precisely the degree of change the electricity sector is experiencing: Electrification of conventional transportation, using computing power to promote smart mobility, and integrating electricity in places where it hasn’t been used before.

The remarkable thing is, according to Per Fernlund, that in general the challenges are the same, regardless the scale you’re working on. inContext is specializing in on-board electrical infrastructure. However, the challenges are similar to what engineers experience at for instance city level, national level or even in cross-border collaboration.

  • The electrical field is developing rapidly, says Per Fernlund.
  • Integration of renewable energy sources is one of the most significant trends, together with advances in energy storage allowing excess energy to be saved for later use. Also, the whole electricity grid is evolving. We’re going from a centralized grid to an energy infrastructure containing a great variety of energy sources and many different storage solutions.
  • Moreover, the electrification of transport, heating and industry is creating a vast number of additional consumers connected to the grid. To make all that work together, we need Smart Grid technology. Only with advanced communication and control systems we can optimize power flow, and balance supply and demand.

EV complexity

Per Fernlund highlights electric vehicles as one of many examples of how electrical systems are evolving, becoming more and more complex and becoming parts of ecosystems functioning closely together: Batteries are crucial, and automotive OEMs are competing fiercely to offer more power and better range. To charge EV-batteries, powerful and extensive charging systems are needed. This includes smart balancing of the power available at local sites to supply all connected vehicles in the best way. And we see vehicle-to-grid solutions evolving, integrating EV-batteries into the grid for temporary storage of excess energy. That concept is dependent on Smart Grid technology, able to balance decentralized storage capacity with energy demand.

Electrical Engineering

In short: As an EV-owner you would surely like to make your vehicle available for storage overnight when it’s parked in your garage. But the following morning you would be disappointed if there wasn’t enough juice in your battery to drive to work.

The underlying technologies to enable such a complex electricity system are among other things the Internet of Things, connecting devices and systems allowing all parts of the grid, from production to consumption, to be visible and to communicate with the infrastructure.

The need to take risks

As mentioned, when creating the energy system of the future, the challenges are the same, regardless if you’re working with high voltage or low voltage and regardless the scale you’re working on. Another constant, according to Per Fernlund, is the necessity to take risks.

  • With so much change happening on so many levels, we must accept that it will take time and a lot of effort to arrive at the optimal solution. For sure, at this point in time we don’t know how the electrical system of the future looks like. There are so many pieces to the puzzle. But what we do know is, that the first solution won’t be optimal. That is a risk we have to live with, because without the first solution we won’t arrive at the optimal solution anyhow.

Special role

Per Fernlund believes the Nordic countries have a special role to play in advancing the Smart Grid of the future. That is because its highly developed electricity infrastructure together with a large share of renewable energy sources, and not least the region’s stability and wealth, makes it ideally suited as a trailblazer.

  • We are small countries, and some people might say we should wait for the world’s industrial superpowers and see what they’re doing. But in my opinion, we should do the opposite. We are small but innovative, and our trademark is advanced engineering and high quality. So, instead of waiting for others we must showcase the best possible solutions and lead the way. And I’m sure that will make good sense not only for the environment, but also businesswise. There is a lot of export potential in being at the front of the green shift.

Positive force

Personally, Per Fernlund, has decided to try to be a positive force on the journey towards the future sustainable energy system. According to him, we shouldn’t wait until there is a watertight business case for every step towards sustainability. Because that won’t happen. Instead, we must investigate, experiment, and test, then adjust, refine etc. and thus go forward via trial and error. Photo of Windmill

  • As engineers working within R&D, we know that it’s rare to find the optimal solution on the first shot. We need iterations. We know that it takes a while and that some investments won’t pay off. But people from other parts of society may demand clear targets and expect guaranteed results from day 1. But that’s not how it works, and I think we have a responsibility in explaining that to others.
  • For me personally, my goal is to be a positive force in these discussions. I don’t want to be the person saying it is impossible. I want to be part of the change and focus on the solutions instead of all the issues and problems. At inContext we want to focus on opportunities instead of difficulties. We want to be part of the solution, and I’m sure we can do our bit to create the sustainable electrical system of the future.

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Martin Lampinen

Managing Director

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