Industry Highlights

Europe’s fast-changing energy sector is often described as undergoing a transition – sometimes a revolution – but the word I use on the cover of this magazine is ‘evolution’.

Because to get to the decarbonized Europe sought after by so many is requiring the sector to adapt what it already has to the changes of the 21st century.

There are no silver bullets, and most of the so-called ‘gamechangers’ of recent years have yet to actually get into the game.

For some time now the power industry has been trying to make sense of the European energy mix jigsaw: the trouble is, this jigsaw doesn’t come in a box with a picture of the finished article on the lid, so no-one quite knows what it’s supposed to look like.

What we do know with certainty is this: change is the new normal in the European power sector and that change is driven by a desire for a cleaner, greener economy.

And change is a good thing: it brings opportunities to rethink what you do, why you do it and how you can do it better, and that is what has been happening in Europe’s power sector.

As my colleague Nigel Blackaby writes in this issue: “Technology is creating a system connected through an energy cloud which features electric vehicles, energy storage, decentralized generation, microgrids, flexible capacity, demand side management, prosumers and two-way connectivity.” (See P86)

But we are only able to realize this brave new digital world by adapting existing technologies.

Coal and lignite are living on borrowed time, but for now they still play a vital role in many countries. The OEMs in this sector have been able to ensure that coal’s swansong will be one of maximum efficiency by adapting their tried and tested technology to reduce emissions and run on alternative fuels such as biomass.

Gas turbine plants have been pushed to the brink by cheap coal, nuclear and renewables, but their second coming is starting (see P42) and they will be essential in the next decade and beyond alongside already ultra-flexible gas engines.

Meanwhile the march of renewables continues – although not everywhere. I write this sitting in the UK, where a report has just been published by analysts at EY which states that British government policy – which favours nuclear and gas over renewables in the near future – is currently “going against the grain of almost universal global support for renewables. A non-committal approach to energy policy is putting the attractiveness of the UK’s renewable energy sector on a landslide.”

The UK is not wrong to reassess its roll-out of renewables, but that pause should be a comma, not a full stop. Suddenly changing lanes in energy policy spooks investors (see P112).

And building large-scale nuclear in Europe looks increasingly like a long-term, expensive mistake. Do you think Hinkley Point will go ahead? No, neither do I. Instead, nuclear’s role in Europe surely lies in the development of small modular reactors (see P56).

The European renewables market meanwhile is facing its challenges: it has joined the rest of the energy sector in facing manufacturing competition from Asia (see P72) and, to reach its full potential, it is waiting for the Holy Grail of commercial-scale energy storage to be realized.

This is not a technology issue: it will only happen if the right market models are put in place and investors are attracted to support projects and drive them to the commercial stage (see our energy storage focus on P10).

The industry needs to find a way to commercialize energy storage to make it viable as a business investment.

The transformation of Europe’s energy system is a work in progress and still raises many unanswered questions. However, the best people to find the solutions are those working in the industry, and they will gather in Milan next month for POWER-GEN Europe and Renewable Energy World Europe.

It promises to be one of the most significant gatherings in the event’s 24-year history, and if you work in the European power sector you should be there. I will be, and together we will debate all of the above issues and find some solutions.

Because that’s what evolution is all about.

Kelvin Ross


Follow PEi Magazine on Twitter: @PEimagzine

Follow me: @kelvinross68


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