Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 6/2016

Likeable electric

As a train commuter, I regard myself as an expert in the area of ‘editorials’. Among the journals I buy, I also often look at other journals on offer at the news kiosk. So I spend hours of waiting time reading, more often than not the editorials. Comparing those editorials with those of previous editions of VGB PowerTech, I doubt that my consumer knowledge helps me that much. Consulting, as a last resort, the Wikipedia website, ‘editorial’ is described as “an opinion piece written by the senior editorial staff or publisher of a newspaper, magazine, or any other written document”. The German-language site of Wikipedia adds the information that, for a long time, it was the domain of Anglo-Saxon newspapers to recommend how readers should vote in elections. In the recent past, more and more European papers have followed this tradition without hesitation.

O.k., for this editorial, I can’t expect any favours from Wikipedia: Firstly, what you read is only my opinion, and secondly, I would like to give you a hint for the election in 2017 but what could that hint be? The VGB PowerTech journal is about electricity and heat generation. It is a characteristic of all the political parties that they limit their focus to just a small section of the whole topic. It is not popular to address the complex political questions concerning the overall energy supply scenario. But why isn’t it popular? At first sight it seems evident: Of course every executable energy supply strategy displeases some in terms of actions to be taken or installations required. These can be high voltage lines, windmills, centralised or sometimes even decentralised power plants, undersea cables, and storage for radioactive waste … The arguments could continue endlessly. At a second glance, it turns out that electricity has never been more likeable since the nationwide electrification programme of the 1880s. It is mystifying how the combination of letters that make up the word ‘electric’ affects the image of things. My favourite example is the electric car (my sons would definitely have chosen the electric toothbrush). A lot of aspects of electric cars in comparison with other mobility concepts are controversial and under discussion, but this doesn’t cast a shadow over the glossy image of the electric car. Personally, I expect these cars to dominate future concepts of mobility. As I pass such a car on my daily bike ride to the train station, I can see onlookers circling the vehicle. I was among the first to do so.

Why can’t we profit from this ‘electric sympathy’ in our energy supply world? Of course, there are subjects illustrated in such a disagreeable way that even the power of ’electric magic’ is rendered useless. This applies to my profession in particular, nuclear energy. The good collaboration between the production of renewables, grid operation and nuclear production is a well-kept secret. Especially the ability of being able to regulate facilities to provide vital support for the stability of the grid. ‘Nuclear plants can only operate on line” is still a widely-held prejudice. We find less challenging topics easier to deal with. Those of us who are skilled workers, master craftsmen, technicians or engineers in the energy supply sector have a clear picture of what a reasonable energy supply strategy should be. We focus on efficiency factors, availability, market models, costs and so on to find the ‘one true’ solution or technology. Sympathy is not a category in this evaluation process. ‘It is important for the customer that electrical energy is available at their plug socket and that the energy is cheap” is a saying passed down in time and is likely to be recalled by all energy suppliers.

Well then? Today electricity is cheap. So cheap that, for a lot of suppliers, it is no longer possible to stay in the black. But this is only true for power traded on the markets. End users, customers, no longer find the price of electricity cheap and this trend will continue in the coming years as billions of euros will have to be paid to keep the grid balanced, change plant production and compensate owners. There is a lot for us to do: We need to rescue the energy world and do it in a likeable manner. To achieve this we will have to say goodbye to the single “best solution”. We will not negate technical or financial dependencies, but we will implement good, feasible and predominant accepted solutions. You will find interesting pieces of the whole energy puzzle in this edition of VGB PowerTech: from decentralised energy supply to the changes in requirements for turbo generators, from parameters of gas calculation underground to fish protection and from the German energy supply transition to competences in health protection.

I wish you a lot of fun choosing from this impressive variety of topics and please excuse me for not helping you decide on where to put your cross in the next election.