Welcome to the new-look Power Engineering International. The last significant redesign we conducted on the magazine was back in 2007, so we felt it was high time for a new one.

With the new front cover design, our main aim was to emphasise the very important inter-relationship between the ‘Power Engineering International’ name and our well-known ‘PEi’ logo. We also wanted to have a front cover design that provided you, our all-important readers, with more information on the topics covered in the issue. With regard to the internal redesign, we wanted to create a modern look and feel that is appealing to the eye and encourages you to read the articles, while still maintaining the quality of editorial coverage we pride ourselves on.

Hopefully, we have achieved these aims, and if you have any comments on the new design, I’d be delighted to hear from you. You can email me at heatherj@pennwell.com

In my new column, which I am very excited about, I will be highlighting some of the industry’s big news stories that have broken over the last month and will consider what their implications might be for the wider power sector. I will also aim to highlight and discuss emerging market trends, which is arguably no mean feat in our rapidly evolving industry.

One of the biggest recent news stories has been the official commissioning of RWE’s BoA 2&3 power plant, which took place the middle of last month. There are two surprising facts about this new 2200 MW twin-unit power station. Firstly, it’s a coal fired plant – it burns lignite – and secondly it is in Germany – located in Niederaussem, near the city of Cologne.

But that is not the end of the story. Peter Altmaier, who is Germany’s environment minister, has reportedly given the green light for the construction of a further 23 new coal fired power plants.

The immediate question that springs to mind is, how does this perceived coal ‘renaissance’ fit in with Germany’s much publicised ‘Energiewiende’ or energy transition – away from nuclear power and towards clean, green renewable energy – which was introduced in the wake of last year’s Fukushima incident? On the surface it doesn’t. However, dig a big deeper and the picture is less clear-cut.

BoA 2&3, for example, represents one of the most advanced lignite fired plant in the world, with a 43 per cent efficiency rating and a highly flexible operation.

At the official commissioning ceremony Peter Terium, RWE’s CEO, and Altmaier gave an able demonstrate of the plant’s operational flexibility. They gave the signal to reduce electricity production and within five minutes the output of one of the units was reduced by 150 MW. Then, within another five minutes it was back up to full power. This was a clear demonstration of a coal plant rivalling a gas-fired one’s capability to offset the intermittency of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.

There is another reason, and arguably the most important one, for what appears to be a return to coal, and it is down to simple economics. With Europe’s continuing economic woes, Germany has repeatedly warned against further harming its economy by raising the cost of electricity. Despite this, prices have risen – driven up by the more expensive wind and solar-derived power (compared to coal and gas) and increasing electricity imports from its neighbours to ensure no shortfall. Worryingly, it is starting to hit high-energy industrial users, such as the steel-making industry, which undoubtedly will have implications for the health of the country’s economy, reports Der Spiegel.

Germany could turn to natural gas as the solution to supporting its growing renewables base, but coal remains cheaper than gas. And unless Europe sees a shale gas revolution on par with the one in the US this is unlikely to change.

So in a slightly perverse way, Germany expanding its coal fired fleet does fit in with its aim of a low-carbon future by supporting its renewables base, and ensuring its all-important energy security.

Heather Johnstone
Chief Editor