Heated debate a highlight at POWER-GEN Europe’s Plenary Panel Session

The discussion at yesterday’s POWER-GEN Europe and Renewable Energy World Europe Joint Plenary Panel Discussion focused on Europe’s energy transition, and exposed the different viewpoints that are represented from across different sides of Europe’s power industry. The panel, which is an annual highlight of Europe’s energy event calendar, was hosted by the straight-talking, internationally-renowned journalist Stephen Sackur, and consisted of:

  • Mark Garnett, Vice President, European Region, Doosan Power Systems
  • Martin Giesen, Chief Executive Officer, Advanced Power
  • Koen Noyens, Advisor, Environment & Sustainable Development Policy unit, Eurelectric
  • Stephan Singer, Director of Global Energy Policy, Climate Change and Energy initiative, WWF Belgium
  • Damian Wagner, Coordinator, Smart Cities, Fraunhofer IAO

Martin Giesen told the audience that his company still foresees a role for traditional conventional power in Europe but as an insurer rather than a commodity.

Responding to a question from Sackur on whether traditional utilities’ prospects were irreversibly negative in the light of the march of renewable power, while much of the industry is gearing up for a future where traditional utilities utterly transform into service providers, Giessen said: “There is a requirement for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. That is the opportunity right now for gas-fired power, not for coal. There is nothing wrong with selling insurance. In the past, power was not sold as insurance but as a commodity. In the future, there will be a bigger insurance component but with good money in it. Will it require infrastructure in some places? Yes it will.”

Mr Singer told the audience that conventional fossil-fuelled power’s days were over, but the path to more renewables would still face resistance. He said: “Fossil fuels will be phased out at different speeds, with gas as the most low carbon fuel, the latest. It would be naïve to think this will be a rapid process as most of the assets and investments still revolve around these interests and these guys won’t let them go easily. There might be role for CCS, but current prices for fossil fuels are prohibitive.”

Meanwhile Mr Wagner had a more positive outlook on how utilities can adapt. He commented that the experience and knowledge contained within these organisations mean they have a real value in the evolving landscape. He told the audience: “In terms of the conventional model and how that’s looking for new business cases – there is a big shift in the energy sector in providing energy services and making use of the knowledge and valuable data utilities possess will prove to be valuable to (smart) cities. I hope cities will work together with utilities a lot more.”

In response to moderator Sackur’s questioning as to whether carbon capture and storage (CCS) was commercially at the scale required to make typical gas and coal plants carbon neutral, an audience member from the industry said that a Sask Power executive had recently said that if their Boundary Dam project was repeated, costs would be 30 per cent lower this time round. Both Mr Garnett and Mr Noyens agreed that there was advantages to be found through the development of CCS, while Mr Singer was wary about its current cost to implement.

Furthermore, Mr Garnett said the European energy sector was being damaged on an ongoing basis through failure to develop the grid. He commented: “It’s around EUR40bn in losses a year through not interconnecting the grid properly.” Both Noyer and Giessen also felt that European energy was being held back by its regulations and rulings.

With all five speakers making excellent points and presenting their different points of view carefully, delegates left the discussion eager for the final day of the show. POWER-GEN Europe’s third and final day has plenty more excitement in store; for further information visit: http://www.powergeneurope.com/index.html.

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