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Still all in it together

As the 20th annual POWER-GEN Europe draws near, conference director Nigel Blackaby takes a look at what the programme has to offer and contrasts this with the first-ever event.

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In mid-June, on the banks of the Rhine, Europe’s power industry professionals will gather to attend the 20th POWER-GEN Europe conference and exhibition at the Koelnmesse exhibition centre in Cologne, Germany. Despite the harsh economic climate in Europe, a record attendance is expected. This year, the event is taking as its theme one of the industry’s most pressing issues: “Integrating the power sector.”

This ‘integration’ theme is not only highly topical and relevant, but also perfectly suited to the event, since the Koelnmesse exhibition centre will be hosting three co-located and closely related events from 12″14 June.

For the past two decades, POWER-GEN Europe has been mostly serving the interests of the conventional power sector, while its younger partner conference & exhibitions, Renewable Energy World Europe and Nuclear Power Europe, represent important low-carbon energy sources, and extend the range of strategic and technical solutions addressed by the event. Together, the three conference programmes and exhibition floors reflect the key facets of the power generation industry, creating a unique place for professionals to exchange views and collaborate.

Exciting Times

It is undoubtedly an exciting and challenging time for the European power industry, especially in Germany, as the sector confronts the challenge of change and transition. The “Integrating the Power Sector” theme reflects both strategic and technical goals underlying European power policy and direction. By gathering together all strands of the power generation sector, debating these issues and sharing the latest technological advances, attendees will positively influence development and increase their understanding of the industry’s shared goals.

Energy experts now agree that Europe’s future electricity supply will require an increasing convergence of the traditional fossil fuel and fast-growing renewable generation sectors. The case for integration is now compelling. The smart energy system of the future requires marrying these sectors to provide the necessary flexibility in low-carbon generation in order to keep the lights on at all times. POWER-GEN Europe, Renewable Energy World Europe and Nuclear Power Europe provide a place for the cross-pollination of ideas on best practice among the world’s leading power industry professionals from each end of the power spectrum.

Technology development is being geared towards providing flexible solutions that enable integration of variable renewables and conventional power, and these solutions are now being brought to market. Technologies addressing the challenge of integration include flexible gas turbines, fast-ramping gas and diesel engines, hybrid power plant designs, energy storage and smart grid technology.

Europe’s utility companies and equipment suppliers need to communicate and collaborate in order to design the integrated power system of the future. The renewable power generation market now recognises the need for close co-operation and integration with the mainstream as green power becomes big business for the major power-generating companies across Europe.

European energy policy is also being driven by a need for further integration between national energy policies and neighbouring grid systems for long-term strategy and R&D efforts. The time has come to join forces for a future clean, reliable and affordable electricity supply.

Comprehensive Conference Programme

The Congress Centre at Koelnmesse plays host to all the conference sessions over the three days. In all, some 230 speakers will give presentations or take part in panel debates across the nine tracks and 65 separate conference sessions. The sessions are open to all registered delegates from POWER-GEN Europe, Renewable Energy World Europe and Nuclear Power Europe. The strategic and technical presentations offer an unrivalled learning opportunity across every aspect of power plant development, design, construction and operation.

The ‘Integration’ track provides an important link between the three conferences. In particular, it addresses the challenges of maintaining a stable and balanced grid against a background of increasing amounts of intermittent renewable power generation on the grid. The track looks at the requirements for strategic planning and the market mechanism that will be required to integrate renewables with the existing baseload fleet. Separate sessions will present papers on flexible thermal power generation solutions as a response to the changing grid requirements, energy storage solutions for matching demand and supply, and the range of smart grid solutions that can help electric utilities adapt the grid to become more responsive and efficient. For those specifically interested in the way in which utilities are approaching the strategic and technical challenges of adding renewable energy to their portfolios, the Renewable Energy World Europe track offers two sessions on large-scale solar power, plus individual sessions devoted to wind, bioenergy, marine and hydropower.

At a time when government support mechanisms for renewables are under review, the conference will also take a look at the regulatory, policy and financing climate.

Those who think that POWER-GEN Europe is just about equipment and technology may be surprised to learn that it is as much a place to understand the industry’s strategic driving forces and trends. Track 1 takes a look at not only Europe’s goals for 2020, but also how these will be a bridge to bolder targets and aspirations in 2030 and 2050.

European policy is already transforming the power sector, and is providing stimulus to build new generation facilities for the next generation’s fuel choices. Both these topics are addressed in Track 1, which will also see presentations on the opportunities for Germany’s Stadtwerke (municipal) power and heat plants. Municipal renewable energy also features in the Renewable Energy World Europe conference on the final morning.

Hand-Picked Technology Papers

As ever, POWER-GEN Europe will present a comprehensive programme of technical presentations from the world’s top equipment suppliers and power industry services. The papers have been carefully selected by a board of experienced industry experts, some of whom have been involved in the design of all of the POWER-GEN Europe conferences for the past 20 years. The emphasis is on innovation and practical applications of technology in ways that offer more efficiency, lower operating costs and improved environmental performance.

POWER-GEN Europe’s programme devotes full individual conference tracks to gas fired power generation and thermal power plants. The gas track includes Mega Sessions involving the major GT manufacturers, plus a look at reciprocating gas engines. A separate track examines the latest trends and options in the quest to cut the carbon footprint of power generation, with sessions covering various approaches to carbon capture and storage.

If power plant control technology is your business, Track 5 at POWER-GEN Europe is for you. Featuring sessions on instrumentation and control systems, generators and auxiliaries, plant monitoring, operational optimisation, condition monitoring and emissions management, it represents a significant concentration of knowledge in this vital area. With refurbishment and modernisation often being the preferred alternative for plant operators, POWER-GEN Europe presents seven sessions in Track 6 looking at how to upgrade and retrofit plants, extend the operational lifetime and manage assets more effectively. Selected case studies will illustrate best practice, and sessions on diagnostic tools and monitoring equipment will round off the conference programme.

While European countries have diametrically opposing policies on the future of nuclear power generation, this sector remains an important part of the generation mix in several countries, in respect of cross-border trade. The Nuclear Power Europe conference programme faces the issue of how the industry can move forward after Japan, and takes a practical look at the stress-testing programme implemented across Europe as a consequence. Despite Germany’s landmark decision to phase out the use of nuclear reactors, a large fleet remains in operation that needs to be maintained and eventually decommissioned. The conference presents views on the challenge and opportunity this presents, as well as examining some of the newer nuclear power technologies.

The big issue

Of course, a power industry gathering in Germany at this time could not ignore the mammoth in the room, Germany’s “Energiewende”, the biggest transformation in Germany’s energy infrastructure planned for a generation. Chancellor Angela Merkel has called time on the nuclear power industry, and is planning to build offshore wind farms that will cover an area six times the size of New York City and erect power lines that could stretch from Berlin to Lagos. The programme has already put some strain on Germany’s winter security of supply position, and at some €200 billion ($263 billion), is costing 8 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2011.

Politicians, the media and the green lobby have greeted the changes with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but the electricity industry’s response has been more muted and sceptical. Now it is time for industry practitioners so have their say in the form of the Joint Plenary Panel Discussion. The debate takes place on the second day of the event, and is a shared session between POWER-GEN Europe, Renewable Energy World Europe and Nuclear Power Europe. It will be moderated by international broadcaster Stephen Sackur, who will be asking the question, “German Power Policy ࢀ” Solution or Illusion?” The panel addressing this question and sharing their views on what this means for the rest of Europe includes: Guiseppe Zampini, CEO, Ansaldo Energia, Italy; Thorsten Herdan, managing director, VDMA, Germany; Milton Catelin, CEO, World Coal Association, UK; Prof Arthouros Zervos, president, European Renewable Energy Council, Greece; and Werner Goetz, board of management, EnBW Kraftwerke AG, Germany.

It all adds up to an enticing programme for delegates over the three days, which is preceded by the Keynote Opening at 09:30 on Tuesday 12th June open to all attendees. It will feature influential industry speakers such as Dr Berhard Fischer, CEO of E.ON Generation (see interview on page 62), Michael Suess, chief executive of Siemens Energy Sector, and Philip Lowe, director general for Energy at the European Commission.

French Connection

The first-ever POWER-GEN Europe took place in 1993 in Paris, where an advisory board of industry experts planned the first conference of this kind, bringing together power industry professionals from across Europe to discuss and learn about the latest strategic and technological developments affecting the industry. Three years later, the 1996 Electricity Directive was enacted, setting the industry on a new course towards open competition and a European internal market in electricity.

It is fascinating to look back to see the issues preoccupying that first conference programme. At that time, we were just beginning to see signs of an opening up of the European power market and the break-up of large, state-owned power entities. A presentation from Eléctricité de France discussed the move from “State Ownership to Shareholdership”. For most European utilities, this process is now complete, although in the case of EDF, the French government still retains an 85 per cent stake.

The first POWER-GEN Europe also focused on the power needs of former East Bloc countries, with sessions comparing industry models across Europe. Presentations from CEZ (Czezh Republic) and utilities from Hungary and Poland brought a new perspective. Interconnection between the Union for the Co-ordination of Transmission of Electricity (UCTE) and Eastern grids was a hot topic. The 2012 conference maintains a space for Eastern European experiences, and with the event moving to Vienna next year, these will be of increased interest.

Financing was key then as now. Unlike 20 years ago, however, this year there will be no presentations from Enron and Mission Energy. Environmental protection and pollution control featured heavily in the first programme, but the issues were solid waste handling, NOx control and reducing acid rain with no mention of CO2 and climate change.

Nuclear power generation featured heavily, with many papers describing Eastern Europe and French plant operation. The Chernobyl disaster of 1986 was still in the news, so plant inspection and safety was very prominent ࢀ” much like the stress tests of the past 12 months.

The passing of time means the loss of former famous industry names (usually by M&A) that presented at the first POWER-GEN Europe. These include Enron, Mission Energy, Framatome, GEC Alsthom, PowerGen plc, National Power, International Combustion Ltd and Sydkraft.

From Tiny Acorns

The first POWER-GEN Europe conference, featuring an instructive conference programme with a trade show offering the opportunity to view the technologies being discussed, was a hit. When the 20th POWER-GEN Europe opens in Cologne on 12 June, over 500 companies will have set up their stalls, anticipating around 15 000 visitors during the three-day event.

The POWER-GEN concept, which originated in the US and first exported to Europe, is now established in Asia, India, Russia, Africa and the Middle East, happily coexisting with Renewable Energy World conference & exhibitions in most regions.

As organisers, it has been our privilege to serve this vital strategic industry by bringing together the best expertise, knowledge and experience of the past two decades the sector can offer. This has been made possible with the help and guidance of our advisory boards, our speakers’ willingness to share their wisdom, the backing of sponsors and exhibitors, and the support of thousands of power industry professionals who have attended over the years. Our gratitude goes out to them all.

The concept of meeting face to face with industry peers to exchange views and ideas, develop new networks of contacts and plan business deals is even more valuable now, when a blog or tweet is regarded as a ‘social’ activity. So we will raise a glass or two of Kàƒ¶lsch beer in Cologne to those visionaries who started POWER-GEN Europe in 1993, and particularly those original committee members still bringing the industry together this way each year.

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