This year’s POWER-GEN Europe in Amsterdam put several key issues in the spotlight, including the evolving role of utilities and thermal power plants, writes Kelvin Ross

There was a perceptible change of mood among the European power market at this year’s POWER-GEN Europe in Amsterdam.

In the past few years, there had been a mixture of bewilderment and anger at the policy decisions – both national and European – that had pulled the rug from under the feet of the sector and left many companies wondering just what their role was going to be in the shifting sands of the 21st century energy system.

Now, however, there is a mood of adaptation and evolution – there is a realization that there is no altering the direction of travel which is taking the power system away from the days of new, large-scale power plants and onto a road leading to more flexible, often distributed generation.

Utilities, OEMs and everyone in between are taking what they have done well for years and adapting it for the coming years of energy transition.

It was the role of utilities that formed a key strand of a speech by Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency.

Speaking at the Joint Opening Keynote Ceremony, she said that the 21st century energy structure needed “new towers, cables and steel on the ground to prepare for smart market design”.

She said that this meant “a market that sets prices that accurately reflects the physical reality of the electricity system, both in terms of time – when and where the power is used – and in terms of space – where it is generated and used”.

Van der Hoeven said that “there are some who would say that large-scale utilities do not have a place in this future”.

But she warned that this was “an over-simplification that is made far too often. Equating a low-carbon energy system with the collapse of large-scale utilities is not the case at all.

“Utility-scale power generation continues to be absolutely essential to fulfilling Europe’s energy demands”.

However, she stressed that utilities had to evolve. She said in a future characterized by distributed generation and smart grids, “the kilowatt-hour of electricity may not be the most valuable product. Rather, the company that will do well is one that uses innovative ideas to bring together power, technology, efficiency and other resources in a resilient and secure manner.

“It’s a company that will take advantage of a market that places value on flexibility.”

Van der Hoeven conceded that proposed new power projects were facing a new breed of the syndrome known as NIMBY (not in my back yard). “We have the NUMBY – not under my backyard; the NOMBY – not over my back yard; and we also have the NOMH – not on my horizon. All are challenges.”

She said there was no going back from the low-carbon energy transition but stressed that “national capacity markets are not the right solution in terms of an integrated European energy system”.

She said “a holistic, all-encompassing approach is needed if we are going to tackle climate change”.

The pace of change of Europe’s power transition was also tackled by Ineke Dezentjé Hamming-Bluemink, President of FME, the Dutch Employers’ Association.

She said that a company “can no longer make a 10-year business plan – you must now review your strategy every month. It’s eat or be eaten.”

She urged companies to “leave your comfort zone and exploit new opportunities”, and stated that those that survive would be “the ones that can best adapt”.

Marie Donnelly, Director of DG Energy at the European Commission, told the audience that Europe was “extremely at risk and exposed” by its huge reliance on oil and gas imports – which, she said, made it all the more important for Europe to act in an integrated, collaborative way. “We can’t continue to operate with 28 separate boxes in the EU.”

Dr Wolfgang Konrad, chief executive of Siemens Distributed Generation, said that between 1990 and 2010, the share of distributed generation was about a third of total demand. “What we are going to see in the next 20 years is this rising to well over 50 per cent – and that’s a trend that will not change.

“We need to understand how to better match demand with availability.”

One of the key debates in Europe at the moment is over the future role of thermal power. At the Plenary Panel debate, Martin Giesen, Executive Chairman of Advanced Power, said he foresees a role for traditional conventional power in Europe as an insurer rather than a commodity.

Giesen said that “there is a requirement for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. That is the opportunity right now for gas-fired power, not for coal. There is nothing wrong with selling insurance. In the past, power was not sold as insurance but as a commodity. In the future, there will be a bigger insurance component but with good money in it. Will it require infrastructure in some places? Yes, it will.”

Nuclear’s role

The nuclear power industry in Europe may have stalled thanks to the triple-whammy of the German Energiewende, delays to new plants in France (Flamanville) and Finland (Olkiluoto), and Hinkley Point in the UK facing being tied up in legal red tape, yet there was still a lively debate at POWER-GEN Europe over the factors affecting its future.

Brian Allan, managing director of QSI Consultancy Group in the United Arab Emirates, warned of the dangers of using new reactor designs.

“I have worked on projects in Finland and the UAE, and with project execution there is not much difference in building a plant in the EU and in the Middle East,” he said. “The real differences come down to circumstances. Flamanville is a first-of-a-kind plant and because of the nature of that design, this is principally why that’s gone three times over budget and over time.”

Allan said that in the UAE “they have the benefit of their vendor’s reference plants in Korea. These are lighter, smaller project units compared to European Pressurized Reactors (EPR). Because there is a reference plant, the UAE will get the benefit of the learning curve – the choice of vendor and unit are very important, but any first-time owner would be advised to look for a reference plant.”

As if to highlight the pitfalls of gambling on a new, unproven design, Jukka Laaksonen of Finland’s Rusatom Overseas said the Finnish experience with Olkiluoto was telling.

“Prior to award the vendor said the design existed, but it was only a principal design – when they got the contract it took them two years to be in a position to start the first buildings, so the risk factor was lost. The French supplier had also never faced a real regulatory process.”

Technology launches

As usual, the exhibition floor at POWER-GEN Europe acted as a launch pad for many new products.

GE announced the initiation of a new software platform aimed at increasing the reliability of power plants, MAN Diesel & Turbo unveiled its new line of two-stage turbocharged gas engines, and ExxonMobil launched an advanced gas engine oil, Mobil Pegasus 605 Ultra 40.

See page 58 for further details on all of these products.

OPRA chief executive Fredrik Mowill spoke to Power Engineering International about updates to the company’s OP16 gas turbine. “The new development on the combustion side enables us to run on very low quality fuels, both in terms of the calorific values and we are also able to handle very dirty fuels,” he said.

Theo Coolen, managing director of INADCO Moisture Measurement, outlined what he called a breakthrough for the biomass market: “A high-frequency measuring system that, for the first time, is able to measure biomass just before it is processed – so not in a laboratory but in a real-time measurement.

“The common, known systems are all very slow and the advantage of our system is that we have the direct result – while working with the material you are able to adjust your process,” he added. “If you take samples and take them to a laboratory, you only will have results once you cannot change anything. It is impossible to process biomass in a good way if you cannot measure it.”

And Adrian Smith, head of condition monitoring at E.ON Technologies, explained the company’s latest advanced condition monitoring. “It’s used to maximize the data that the plant has in terms of predicting plant problems early.

“It’s a system that learns the history of plant and that enables the operator to detect problems much earlier. The benefit of the system is that is doesn’t try and predict failures – it uses the data and the references between the data, so that it leans what ‘normal’ looks like. And if there is a deviation from ‘normal’, our system flags that up. So it can be a new type of fault that you’ve never seen before.”


Projects of the year winners revealed

The winners of the first Power Engineering International EMEA Projects of the Year were revealed at a glittering awards ceremony at POWER-GEN Europe and Renewable Energy World Europe.

The awards highlight the best in power plant construction across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

There were four awards categories. The prize for best Large-scale Gas Turbine-based Project was won by Cengiz Enerji for Samsun combined-cycle power plant in Turkey, supplied and built by Siemens. The runner up was the 1500 MW Az-Zour North Power Plant, owned by Kuwait’s Ministry of Electricity and involving principal contractor Alghanim International.

Best Large-scale Gas Engine-based Project went to IPP3 in Jordan, the world’s largest internal combustion engine power plant constructed by Wärtsilä for owner Amman Asia Electric Power Company. The runner up was Elering’s Kiisa Emergency Reserve Plant in Estonia, the first such plant ever built in that country.

Best Renewable Energy Project was won by SolarReserve for its Jasper solar PV project in South Africa. The runner up was London Array, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, located in the UK.

The award for Best Distributed Generation Project went to an on-site energy upgrade project carried out by NEM on behalf of Slibverwerking Noord-Brabant, Europe’s largest sewage sludge incineration plant. The runner up was Atoll Energy’s QuadriTherm combined heat and power initiative, based in France.

Each nomination was judged by a panel of independent industry experts and based on technological innovation, logistical challenges in developing the project, capacity and community impact.

Best gas turbine project

The Cengiz Enerji Samsun combined-cycle power plant was completed two months ahead of its agreed deadline, in a record construction time of only 23 months.

With a gas turbine as its key component and an installed capacity of 600 MW, the plant reaches an efficiency level of around 61 per cent, which is a new record for the 50 Hz market. This makes Cengiz Enerji Samsun the most efficient fossil fuel-fired power plant not only in Turkey, but also in the entire 50 Hz power plant market at present.

Siemens supplied the power island for the plant, consisting of a gas turbine, a steam turbine, generator, electrical system and instrumentation and control system.

The company also supplied a Benson heat recovery steam generator and the auxiliary and ancillary systems for the plant.

Cengiz was responsible for all construction and installation work at the plant.

Cengiz Enerji Samsun is extremely flexible and is designed for 200 starts per year. After a downtime of six hours, the plant can power up to full load in less than 30 minutes. Furthermore, it can adapt its output by more than 35 MW per minute to meet the changing power requirements.

The Turkish power plant market demands environmentally friendly power generating units that are online quickly and reliably, and the Cengiz Enerji Samsun plant is a blueprint for this energy strategy.

Best gas engine project

IPP3 in Jordan is the world’s largest internal combustion engine power plant.

Located near Amman and owned by Amman Asia Electric Power Company, it is powered by 38 Wärtsilä multi-fuel engines with a combined capacity of 573 MW.

IPP3 will be used for covering the sharp daily peaks of electricity demand in Jordan. Key features of its internal combustion engine technology are its capability for fast starting, and ramping output up and down quickly and efficiently. By starting one engine at a time, the plant can follow demand very precisely.

IPP3 and its sister plant, the 250 MW IPP4, have been in commercial operation since late last year.

According to data provided by the Jordanian grid operator NEPCO, their impact on Jordan’s power grid has been remarkable.

Because the two engine plants have covered most of the peak demand, large gas turbine power plants on the grid have been released from this task. As a result, turbines now produce steady baseload, operating much more efficiently and leading to significant savings in fuel, energy costs and CO2 emissions.

In addition to operational flexibility, IPP3 provides fuel flexibility. The tri-fuel plant can run on heavy fuel oil, light fuel oil and natural gas. Currently, heavy fuel oil is used due to a shortage of natural gas.

The plant will start to use LNG-based natural gas later this year, as soon as it becomes available.

Best renewable project

California-based SolarReserve has developed the Jasper Solar Power Project, located near Kimberley in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.

Featuring photovoltaic technology, its gross capacity of 96 MW produces 180,000 MWh of energy annually.

Construction of the project, which includes over 325,000 individual solar panels, commenced in October 2013 and full commercial operation was achieved one year later.

Modules were supplied by China’s Yingli Solar and are positioned on fixed-tilt, ground-mounted arrays spreading across a 358-acre (145-ha) site. Spain’s Iberdrola and South African firm Group Five were the lead EPC/O&M partners.

The $260 million Jasper Power Project was awarded under the South Africa Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) and included a financial investment from Google – its first renewable energy investment in South Africa. The project has a 20-year power purchase agreement with national utility Eskom.

During its 20+-year operating life, the project will expend in excess of €150 million on operations and maintenance costs, with 45 per cent of the total project value being local content spend.

In addition to stimulating long-term economic development and creating new jobs, Jasper is now playing its part in helping South Africa meet its renewable energy targets.

Best distributed generation project

Working in partnership with NEM, NV Slibverwerking Noord-Brabant, Europe’s largest sewage sludge incineration plant, upgraded its on-site energy system so that the facility is now virtually energy neutral – a status unique in the industry.

The original plant had a power capacity of about 450 kW. However, process analysis revealed that it would be feasible to generate significantly more electricity, considering the energy available in the exhaust of the incinerators.

Thus, SNB made the decision to replace the existing system with two new 60 bar boilers provide by NEM and a Siemens steam turbine, with an overall output of 3.5 MW.

The two boilers generate steam from the residual heat released when the sludge is incinerated. This steam drives a turbine that in turn generates sufficient electricity to cover almost all of SNB’s needs.

The plant also produces low-pressure steam that is used for pre-drying the sludge and for reclaiming raw materials.

After a year’s preparation, NEM technicians began assembling the boilers at the SNB facility in September 2014. At the project’s peak 250 people were on-site.

A major challenge in the project was the limited time allowed for the tie-in of the two new boilers. The amount of incoming sludge at the facility was such that the plant essentially had to continuously stay in operation, with only one incinerator allowed to be stopped at any one time.

The replacement of the two boilers was completed in an impressive 70 days.