I have not long returned from the POWER-GEN Europe event, which this year took place in the cultural city of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. With its co-located events of Renewable Energy World Europe, POWERGRID Europe and Nuclear Power Europe – a new launch this year – almost all aspects of the electric power market were covered – from conventional thermal generation through to wind and solar power and from smart grids to the latest nuclear reactor designs.
One particular strong message that came out of this year’s event was the acknowledgement that both Europe (and the world) are undergoing an energy transition in terms of both how we generate and use electricity, and that this must be done in a sustainable manner.
In his opening keynote address, Ruud Lubbers, former Dutch prime minister, described himself as a “man of the environment” and emphasized the importance of having an integrated plan to promote both economic growth and environmental sustainability.
The other two keynote speakers, Joost van Dijk, chief executive of E.ON Benelux and Frank Wouters, Masdar Power’s chief executive, echoed this sentiment, acknowledging that the solution to the dichotomy of meeting the growing power electricity demand without damaging the environment lies in a balanced mix of technologies, in generation and transmission.
A highlight of this year’s event was the joint plenary session entitled ‘Climate Policy Uncertainty – Where Does the Power Industry Go From Here?’, moderated by Stephen Sackur, TV broadcaster and international journalist. The panel which took part comprised industry leaders from right across the industry and provided a lively and absorbing debate.
The broad conclusions reached during the debate were that although the recession and ongoing economic uncertainty in the European Union (EU)had cut carbon emissions, accurate price signals were still needed to help the industry and consumers make decisions about energy efficiency and renewable energy investments.
Matthias Hartung, CEO and president of RWE Technology, said: “In the EU, emissions are going down” and that the “next step was to reduce the [emissions]cap”. However, Ian Miller, CEO of Doosan Power Systems, said that the carbon pricing was not currently working, but acknowledged that European policymakers were now showing willingness to set a carbon price floor to help encourage investment in low-carbon techologies.
In light of the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks late last year, Sackur took the opportunity to conduct a quick straw poll of the panellists on whether they thought the follow-on meeting in Mexico later this year would be successful. Perhaps unsurprisingly no-one raised their hand.
However, the panel was reluctant to say that Europe should reassess its 2020 renewable energy target, with Joan McNaughton, senior vice president for Power and Environment Policies, Alstom Power actually describing it as at the low end of what needs to be accomplished. While Rainer Hauenschild, CEO of Energy Solutions, Siemens, countered that the 20 per cent goal was already a “challenge” and that “a lot of things have to work” to reach the goal, including enhancing the T&D grids and providing back-up power for renewable energy.
Finally, Carlo Luzzatto, co-general manager of Ansaldo Energia, was pressed on what was a realistic renewable energy target. He said that it was “technically nonsense” to discuss a 100 per cent renewables as a European target and added that: “We need to combine renewable energy with conventional sources”.
Other interesting topics debated were how to encourage energy efficiency and the true cost of energy. Both Stephen Kidd, director of strategy for the World Nuclear Association and David Porter, CEO of the Association of Electricity Producers in the UK agreed that energy has been too cheap and that efficiency gains could be best achieved by making energy more expensive. As Porter put it: “The days of cheap energy are long gone”.
The plenary was also streamed live over the internet, so it enjoyed a truly international audience. If you are interested in watching the plenary session it has been archived. You can access it from the POWER-GEN Europe website () once you have registered.