Meet Peter Olofsson, Technical Account Manager at Northvolt

You spent quite a lot of time at ABB within several rolls. Let’s talk about it.

To do that, it’s important to understand my background. During my studies at Chalmers Technical University, I did my Master Thesis at Ringhals nuclear power plant south of Gothenburg. I had been studying Nuclear Engineering and a natural step was for me to join Vattenfall who owns Ringhals or start at a consulting company that would work at the facility. I signed up for a consultant company before I had finalized my studies with the aim to work at Ringhals. However, during the spring when I finalized my master thesis work, Fukushima happened and there were also some issues at Ringhals power plant which made them stop hiring new consultants and so for the longest time I didn’t do anything. After a couple of months, I finally got a task, but it also hit me that I had to do something. I saw the ABB trainee program and I applied there to start early 2012.  

On top of physics and engineering, you also got a Master’s in Finance. The two subjects seem polar opposite from each other, don’t you think?  I did these in parallel. The physics was the first one I chose and also the most challenging I would say. I’d always build stuff when I was younger, and the real reason is actually that a friend of mine started talking about it and I decided to jump on that train. But don’t get me wrong, I always liked mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Joining Chalmers was a big change of pace for me compared to high school. You didn’t specialize to begin with, so I got a taste for all the different physics topics before I chose nuclear engineering my third year. I’ve always loved that technology and always been interested to read about it. 

Also, at that time, there was a renaissance or a new peak here in Sweden with big companies talking about investing more money and building new reactors. All of that changed completely after Fukushima. In parallel to that, some friends and I started to read economics at another university nearby. It was relatively simple at first because we’d been reading mathematics and physics. They were good compliments because all the mathematics you learned, you understood how to apply it in real finance. 

Back to ABB, what was that experience like? 

Sure. I started the trainee program with nine other economists and engineers and we were all new to the city. Experiencing all this newness made us all really close and we became good friends. I think ABB and their trainee program has been very successful because they’ve managed to attract a lot of very good people. During this trainee program we rotate on different assignments, so you have an assignment for almost three months at one business unit like ABB Robotics and then you move to another one like ABB Process Automation. 

Coincidentally, I had a friend of a friend working at ABB who recommended me to apply to the unit ABB FACTS after I was done with my rotation. I became a Systems Design engineer and worked with, for me, a completely new technology.  A usual work task is to design a reactive power compensation installation based on a specification from costumers which can be companies like Vattenfall, Svenska Kraftnät or other big utilities. We start by making a optimized substation design with different components like reactors, capacitors and transformers in order to meet their requirements. Then, the work continuous by preparing a mechanical design, an electrical design, a control design, and we finally send our quote to the utility. If ABB wins the project, then we order the components, perform the installation before it is handed over the customer. So, it’s a project organization that buys different components and build this together in a system. 

I ended up doing that for two and a half years mainly focusing on the US market. There was a lot of traveling and I got to live in Raleigh, North Carolina, for three months. When those two and a half years had passed, one of the group managers left for another assignment and I applied for the position. I became one of the managers for the system design department and mainly responsible for the ongoing projects we had. Being a manager there carried with it a lot of challenges both to act as a filter from higher ups pressures, but then also supporting your team and providing them with the right resources possibilities to succeed. It was a good time and ABB is a really great place to take these steps and grow from an intern to a manager. If you want to learn, this is a really good area to do just that. However, I think I was ready to move on to something new. 

What do you mean?

Here at Northvolt, if you need to do something, just do it. We are all here in this company because we have a purpose and we are smart enough to make the decisions necessary to get our work done. If you have an idea – and it’s a good idea – that you get an opportunity to explain and argue for, then it can quickly become a reality. At Northvolt, I feel I get opportunities to excel and be more creative because here are so many people with a huge amount of energy and also so many great ideas! 

Now you’ve been here for over a year. What do you do?

Right now, I am a technical account manager within the business development team at Northvolt. My main focus is giving technical support within different market segments. I come from a power systems background, so I give quite a lot of my support where Northvolt is building battery racks for ESS Business. I’m out meeting potential business partners and customers to align with them what their expectations are and then internally develop, together with the battery systems team, products that could fit to customers in the future. 

What is really exciting is thinking back to a year ago when we were just staring at a blank piece of paper and we didn’t have any developments for battery racks for ESS. Today, we are over ten people working on this. At the same time, since we are a smaller organization, we have to give support where it’s needed so I am also a project manager right now in a cell development project together with one of our automotive partners. It is very interesting because at its core, customers want the battery cells and we can look into their electrical future, but this also requires Northvolt to align internally with our cell design team, the team that is developing active material, the process engineering team, the quality team, and the list goes on. All of these teams have to go hand-in-hand to be able to produce these battery cells in the future! 

Currently, a lot of our focus goes towards getting the right equipment into Northvolt Labs and planning ahead so we are able to produce the cells that are expected by the customers. 

Do you think there’s a future in ESS?  

Absolutely. There is for sure a really great opportunity where we are able to build products and systems that can store energy over time that’ll enable us to integrate more renewables into power systems. The transition will not be easy, and I expect more challenges over time when we close down more base-power like nuclear and coal and introducing renewables like wind and solar.

Due to this, we need to create stability in the power system in a similar way that we did at ABB FACTS. This can today be done, with even better efficiency, such as with a Energy Storage Systems that handle both active and reactive power. When companies like Northvolt manages to build battery racks with our own cells and with our high-performance battery racks, we will help to enable this transition of renewables into the grid. That’s my view of this and I think it is a great opportunity as a cell manufacturer to have integration up to the battery rack level. 

What happens when you leave the office?

I love to hang out with friends, read, run and pushing myself through endurance challenges and lacing up my running shoes always sounds fun to me.