The keynote speeches at day two of POWER-GEN International yesterday sounded a timely chord, both of the sad and happy variety.

The event began with a moment of silence for late US President George Bush, who was laid to rest yesterday. The keynote finale speaker, economic and author Todd Buchholz, was a presidential advisor during that administration.

The other coincidence was having Scott Strazik, the new chief executive of GE’s newly-restructured Gas Power division. He spoke only within weeks of being promoted to the position to revitalize and refocus the company’s gas business.Todd Buchholz at POWERGEN International

Both men highlighted macro and micro economic issues. Strazik detailed the transition of gas over coal atop the US power generation mix, as well opportunities globally.

Buchholz noted how the world has changed since Bush was in office and also spotlighted what utilities and other power generators must do to survive the “scissors economy” – when the middle man gets ‘snipped out’. He said it was happening in retail, transportation and even energy. Power generation has challenges such as direct buying, home automation and renewables, among others and utilities and all power generators need to adapt and evolve.

“It’s important for you,” he said. “You’ve got to be more than the middle, not simply running turbines, but in the last mile, as well.”

Strazik noted that some 700 GW of coal and nuclear power are going to be retired in the next 20 years. Renewables are on the rise, but they needed a resiliency partner and he argued that natural gas-fired generation offered the most nimble partner.

“Fundamentally, renewables are growing faster,” Strazik said. “In reality, when you look at fuel dynamics, there’s a lot of opportunity for natural gas.”

He also highlighted the gas contribution to carbon emissions reduction, noting statistics indicate that two-thirds of the 27 per cent drop in CO2 in past years is due to the transition from coal to gas.