The 15th POWER-GEN Europe conference was the most comprehensive and best attended yet. Those present at the three-day event in Madrid had the opportunity to choose from more than 250 presentations given at what is now widely viewed as the continent’s premier international power event.

This year saw two new conferences run in parallel with the traditional POWER-GEN Europe conference, highlighting the increasingly important roles that renewable energy and the transmission system now play in the mainstream energy business.

Convergence between conventional power generation, renewable and low carbon technologies, and the transmission grid will be the future focus for Europe’s energy business. So said Jose Luis Marin, director general of Endesa Red during the opening keynote address, the traditional launch of the conference.

Marin’s comments echoed the format of this year’s POWER-GEN Europe, the largest in the history of the event, which came to Madrid in June together with its new sister conferences Renewable Energy Europe and POWERGRID Europe. Hundreds of presentations and 450 exhibiting companies across two halls of the giant Feria de Madrid exhibition centre left over 11 000 professional delegates and visitors in no doubt as to the veracity of Marin’s prognosis.

Dignitaries of the European power industry prepare to make their keynote speeches
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Having established the three central themes, the keynote addresses also struck on the central premise that a wide range of technologies will be required if Europe is to succeed in tackling the challenges associated with the delivery of sustainable, secure and environmentally benign energy to its people.

With climate change at the top of the political agenda, a European vision for zero emission power generation and an EU Directive mandating a massive increase in renewable generation over the coming decade, an assessment of the potential for carbon dioxide (CO2) reduction from different sources was provided in the opening presentation sessions.

Marin pointed out that, with a generation asset typically having a 40-year lifespan, decisions made today regarding what forms of generation technology will dominate the market will affect the distant future, perhaps irrevocably. He added that while increasing the contribution from renewable sources is vital, nuclear technologies and clean coal combustion must also be considered as part of a broad mix of energy technologies.

According to Marin, the development of competitive carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is a major objective for Endesa, with the company selecting oxyfuel combustion as the technology likely to deliver the earliest commercial results. This revelation came in contrast to comments from fellow keynote speaker Philippe Joubert, president of Alstom Power Systems. The engineering giant, who announced a major addition to its renewable portfolio at the conference with news of its acquisition of Spanish wind and solar developer Ecotècnia, favours a post-combustion chilled ammonia solution to carbon capture, on the grounds that the technology can be retrofitted to existing facilities and will be the most competitive.

Key technologies covered during the opening session of POWER-GEN Europe included CCS, with an insight into how bottlenecks to its introduction may be overcome from EDF’s Dr Francois Giger and Pietro Di Zanno of Air Liquide. Reflecting the views of both Marin and Joubert, the two concluded that the power industry will be the most affected sector within a carbon constrained world, and that in order to continue operating the industry will have to adopt new technologies. These will incorporate both post-combustion CO2 capture and pre-combustion technologies such as gasification or oxy-fuelling. However, whilst each step carries with it technological and commercial risks, the over-riding concern would be to find a use for CO2 of sufficient scale to take all emissions from a plant over the course of its lifetime – a very tall order indeed.

In a year when a large part of Western Europe was plunged into darkness by a cascading collapse of the interconnected transmission grid, delegates heard from Siemens’ Olaf Ruhle and Edwin Lerch, who described the use of dynamic security assessment for the prevention of blackouts after a severe fault situation. They concluded that the evolving nature of the power industry within the liberalized energy market has made on-line security assessment a critical function in ensuring reliability, and they advocated simulations that allow the necessary contingency systems to be developed.

The resurgence of coal as a source of potentially clean, secure and sustainable energy shone through strongly in the following day’s POWER-GEN Europe sessions. The commercial viability of integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) technology and more efficient supercritical coal fired plants was examined with a series of papers from major OEMs such as Siemens and MHI, with large supercritical generators also explored in papers from boiler manufacturers looking at advances in coal fired boiler technology. One example came from Fumihiko Tamamushi of Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) of Japan, who looked at technological approaches to reducing CO2 emissions from thermal power plants, with the emphasis placed squarely on improving thermal efficiency, using CFB boilers and biomass fuels, as well as the use of oxy-fuel combustion.

Renewable Energy Europe, marking green energy’s progression into the mainstream of the industry, made a welcome and crucial addition to the event
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Renewable technologies continue to take giant strides into the mainstream energy industry and the use of biomass in generation was also examined in Renewable Energy Europe.

Metso Power’s Jouni Kinni, delivering a paper on the largest biomass power plant in the UK, the 44 MW Steven’s Croft plant, concluded that small and medium-scale biomass power plants will be built in areas with both adequate fuel sources and long-term public subsidy arrangements, but that an increase in plant size will be required to reduce production costs. This will, according to Kinni, only be achieved through the development of an international biomass market.

Renewable Energy Europe also offered a view to the future with papers in a special session entitled “Renewable Energy Technologies to Watch”. This included a presentation on developments in novel tidal stream generation technology from Marine Current Turbines’ Peter Fraenkel, who pointed to future advances extending the depth at which marine current machines will be able to operate, opening up a huge and entirely hidden world of clean power generation opportunities.

A fundamental key to the wider integration of renewable technologies is the economic and efficient connection of distributed generation to the transmission grid. Over in POWERGRID Europe, this theme was explored by Gianluca Fulli and colleagues from the Institute for Energy. Their paper on the present status and challenges to further integration of distributed generation revealed that those countries with significant renewable capacity, notably Denmark, may face more stringent technical and regulatory issues related to expanding renewable capacity due to a possible saturation effect on the existing infrastructure. Conversely, those countries with currently limited exposure to renewable energy retain a massive potential for its integration as they are able to plan in advance the future architecture of distribution grids and will be able to benefit from the experience of others.

Innovation in generation, transmission and distribution and the future delivery of clean energy within the context of a wider European alliance were the dominant themes to emerge from the three conferences. This was underscored by the range of papers awarded the title of best paper for each of the eight tracks that made up the POWER-GEN Europe presentations.

“The evolution of the European fossil fuel power generation sector and its impact on the sustainability of the energy system” from Dr Evangelos Tzimas was joined by “Reliable power from renewables with assistance from reciprocating engines”, presented by Wärtsilä’s Dr Jacob Klimstra, each an example of the convergence between conventional power generation and renewable and low carbon technologies. Furthermore, the role of the transmission and distribution network in delivering such energy to the point of use occupies a crucial position that cannot be overlooked.

Clearly there are many challenges linked to the achievement of clean, cheap and competitive energy, in the battle to address climate change. However, if the evidence presented at this year’s POWER-GEN Europe, Renewable Energy Europe and POWERGRID Europe conferences is anything to go by, Europe’s power sector is setting about tackling these issues with true verve and style.

POWER-GEN EUROPE, Renewable Energy Europe and POWERGRID Europe reconvene in Milan, Italy, on 3-5 June 2008.