I have not long returned from POWER-GEN Europe, which took place for the first time in the culture-soaked city of Vienna, and I have to confess that I went there with some degree of trepidation considering the challenging situation that Europe’s power sector currently finds itself in.
I had envisaged a lot of glum and grumpy people mumbling under their breath “this political interference must stop” and “leave it to the market to decide”, and exhibition halls that eerily echoed to your footsteps, with the odd tumble-weed to be navigated. Thankfully, my concerns proved to be totally outlandish, and I am pleased to say that the mood at the event was positive, even upbeat. Speaking with exhibitors, many said they had done good business, while the conference was, as ever, well-attended.
Clearly the only way our industry is going to move past the current challenges it faces is through engagement and dialogue with all stakeholders, and hopefully events such as POWER-GEN Europe help in some small way.
Another aspect that is purely anecdotal, but may have contributed to the positivity at the event, is that visitors from southeast Europe, such as the Balkans, came for the first time.
Although the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell almost 100 years ago, it appears that many countries that came under its rule still see Vienna as a ‘gateway’ to Western Europe, and unlike the latter many of those countries have money to spend as they seek to bring their old and creaking electric power systems into the 21st century.
Now, before I make the event sound too utopian, let me reassure you that there was a fair bit of straight-talking on how Europe’s power sector can revive its fortunes, with ‘no punches pulled’ – thankfully not literally – in some circumstances. Once again the popular plenary discussion, moderated by BBC journalist Stephen Sackur, was held and also streamed live over the web. This year’s discussion was on whether the EU’s decarbonisation strategy was a ‘roadmap’ or in fact a ‘roadblock’.
None of the panelists disagreed with the need to decarbonise our electricity, but there was disagreement on how this is achieved. Fabian Roques, senior director at consultancy IHS CERA, believes that the EU is on the “wrong path to that destination”, while RWE Technology chief executive Michael Fübi, described the current decarbonisation strategy as “expensive news’, illustrating the point by adding that RWE had spent €12 billion on conventional power plants that under present conditions were essentially redundant.
While at a press conference, Lothar Balling, head of Siemens’ Gas Turbine Power Plant Solutions, went further, calling for governments to get to grips with maintaining high efficiency, high flexibility power plants as support for the unreliability of renewables. He described the market as “poisoned by [policy] uncertainty” at the moment. Clearly the debate will continue, but you can read the main news from this year’s POWER-GEN Europe, starting on p.4.
In this issue, we feature a special focus on high-voltage direct current (HVDC), with the creation of HVDC grids recognised as an essential part of a future low-carbon, sustainable and secure electric power system across the globe.
Beginning on p.27, we take a snapshot look at the global HVDC market, and find China is leading the charge on HVDC grid development. We also review the most recent technological advances (p.32).
Undoubtedly the new hybrid HVDC breaker by ABB marks one of the most significant breakthroughs in the sector, removing a 100-year old barrier to the development of DC transmission grids, and thereby enabling the efficient integration and exchange of renewable energy, improved grid reliability and enhancing the capability of existing AC networks.
Interestingly, MIT Technology Review ranked this development among the ten most important breakthrough technologies of the year expected to have the greatest impact on the shape of innovation in the years to come. We understand that ABB is in discussions with power utilities to identify pilot projects for the new development.
Finally, in Talking Point (p.36), we ask a host of industry experts how close they think we are to establishing a supergrid in Europe.
Undoubtedly the new hybrid HVDC breaker by ABB marks one of the most significant breakthroughs in the sector, removing a 100-year old barrier to the development of DC transmission grids
Dr. Heather Johnstone
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