With plans well underway for POWER-GEN Europe 2013, conference director Nigel Blackaby examines some of the key themes that will drive the debate in Vienna, with system flexibility and integration being critical to meeting Europe's long-term generation challenge.
Rapid growth in renewable infrastructure is placing considerable pressure on Europe's power system. Renewables predominately generate power intermittently, meaning their increasing prominence in the energy mix poses new challenges in respect of security of supply. System flexibility, back-up and storage are therefore pressing priorities.
In particular, intermittency of supply means backup generation is critical to ensuring consistent stability in load at all times.
Power generation technology development has focused heavily in the area of flexible gas-fired solutions, with manufacturers designing gas turbines to be fast ramping in order to achieve maximum load as quickly as possible and with the capability to operate efficiently in part-load conditions.
Similarly, manufacturers of gas engines are looking to improve the efficiency in which their engines can be operated.
For example, power plants are now being constructed with a dozen fast-starting gas engines, which provide the plant operator with the capability to use a small number where necessary and quickly fire-up additional ones should demand increase.[Page Break]
More in store
There have also been significant advances in storage technologies. Hydro power pump storage in particular is gaining traction in countries such as Austria and Switzerland.
Here, the electricity generated by renewables can be used to pump water from a lake at the bottom of a mountain to another lake or storage facility at the top.
When needed, the water is then released back down the hill and passes through a hydro turbine in order to generate power that is fed back into the grid.[Page Break]
The integration of renewables into the energy mix also means a marrying of the technologies themselves, such as designs allowing the construction of hybrid power plants.
With hybrid concentrating solar power (H-CSP) for example, a solar add-on is fitted in a conventional power plant to take over a part of its steam supply otherwise supplied by fossil fuel. H-CSP can make significant savings in terms of fuel consumption, cut the level of CO2 emissions, and increase both the power plant's peak load capability and efficiency.
Similarly, the integration of power grids is gaining momentum, with a number of practical steps and investment decisions already made in the areas of interconnection, large reinforcement and offshore transmission.[Page Break]
Finding smarter ways
Current developments make balancing demand and supply on the grid more complex. Solving the intermittency challenge is therefore a major factor driving interest in the smart grid, although it has yet to see widespread adoption.
Financing generally remains a major challenge, while continued regulatory reform and uncertainty, as well as consumer concerns over privacy and security, have proved barriers to smart grid evolution.
Nevertheless, incorporating more intelligence into the power grid and distribution networks means operators and utilities will be able to react more quickly to changes in demand.[Page Break]
In-built intelligence and communications capability will mean the grid can react more quickly to peaks and troughs in demand, and send messages to the parts of the system necessary to reduce or ramp up the power load as required.
The greatest barrier to achieving these goals however, is the power industry's huge upfront capital requirement.
The fact investors need to know they will make a return over the majority of the typical 25-30-year lifetime of a plant has put the brakes on development.
And while GDP remains flat and in recession, the hiatus in demand for power will continue. But as economies return to growth, demand will rise significantly.[Page Break]
Enhancing the old
From an operations and maintenance perspective, technological innovation is key to keeping Europe's power flowing. Moreover, the energy industry is constantly striving for and achieving greater efficiency, with marginal gains being found through programmes of plant refurbishment and modernisation.
Retro-fit and modernisation
A relatively modest retro-fit and modernisation programme at an existing power plant can deliver an increase in efficiency of several per centage points. And if an extra 10 per cent efficiency in terms of power generation is achieved at a large power plant, this can almost equate to what can be achieved by building a small power plant - but at significantly lower cost.
In many ways, the power industry continues to successfully solve its most pressing challenges and it is much more efficient than it was. The main challenge of course, is continued business uncertainty and the risk that companies might be inclined to cut back on R&D.
Fortunately, the power industry has been to a certain extent sheltered from the downturn as it continues to drive forward in its own efforts to meet targets on decarbonisation, energy efficiency and green energy.[Page Break]
POWER-GEN Europe 2013
Now in its 21st year, POWER-GEN Europe, co-located with Renewable Energy World Europe, offers the largest and most comprehensive conference and exhibition for the European electricity and power technology sectors.
The combination of conferences and exhibitions across the entire spectrum of power generation is unique and is serving the vital move towards integrating the traditional fossil fuel and fast-growing renewable generation sectors.
POWER-GEN Europe 2012 attracted more than 13,000 attendees 13,014 attendees from 105 countries and 595 exhibitors and 1,054 delegates.
Show highlights included opening keynote speeches from Laslo Varro, Head of IEA's Gas, Coal and Power Division; Bernard Fischer CEO of E.ON Generation; and Michael Süβ, CEO of Siemens Energy Sector Germany, all of whom shared their visions for the future of the energy industry.
Meanwhile, many of the other presentations throughout the show focused on exciting new technology developments, particularly in the areas of biomass and coal-firing while also confirming interest in the progress of commercialising CCS (carbon capture and storage).
POWER-GEN Europe 2013 is being held from the 4th to the 6th of June 2013, and is taking place at Messe Wien, Vienna, Austria. Taking Keeping Europe's Power Flowing as the theme across POWER-GEN Europe and its co-located event Renewable Energy World Europe, the conference sessions will cover strategic and technical topics chosen and presented by leading practitioners from the power industry itself.
For more information, please visit the POWER-GEN Europe website at www.powergeneurope.com
Enter √ at www.engineerlive.com/ipe
Nigel Blackaby is Conference Director, POWER-GEN Europe, Waltham Abbey, Essex, UK. www.powergeneurope.com