Editorial - VGB PowerTech Journal 7/2014

All power is “glocal”

The German “Energiewende” has actually become reality.
However, economically there will be a long way ahead.

The power industry is forced to radical changes – and Germany is still quite alone with its policy of phasing out nuclear power. At the same time the increase in renewables is as high as ever before and beyond all ecological expectations of former years.

The biggest structural change in the history of energy business has materialised and we are in the midst of it. “All power is glocal”. Global and local – this is the only way of drafting a proper energy policy.

In practice, supply security, sustainability and economic efficiency can only be balanced locally. We need a locally- and regionally tailor-made energy concept which is connected to national as well as European requirements. Individual needs and options of the individual regions have to be completely taken into account.

Example Berlin: Apart from state-of-the-art combined cycle, coal- and gas-fired plants, older heating stations are also still in operation and to be modernised in order to take due account of the future supply range. For historical reasons there are a large number, mostly medium to smaller plants, that are directly located in the city. The prevailing subject of “General conditions and development of modernisation options and/or replacement of older plants” is currently on any energy agenda, either of managers or politicians, and naturally this topic was also on the agenda of the VGB Conference Steam Generators, Fluidised Bed Firing Systems and Cogeneration Plants 2014 that took place in Weimar on March 26/27, 2014.

That was the first time that a VGB conference of three VGB working panels was held jointly. New common thoughts were developed and formulated into innovative subjects. One example is the “NOVALIS” research project aiming at practical solutions, i.e. vibration measurement and optical-acoustical signals to combat vibration problems.

The engineering and staff situation of power plant groups in large cities secures and controls power and district heating supply of large areas. In the past combined heat and power generation was the silver bullet for sustainability and it will continue to remain. Correspondingly storage of district heating would be an innovative focus for increasing efficiency.

Locally secure and sustainable control also means to leave room for practical innovations in order to be able to generate power cost efficiently and flexibly in the mix with renewables.

Biomass combustion with products of regional forestry, i.e. biomass that has not been transported over the seas, is one sustainable development which needs a lot of intuition. This was an issues also addressed on the above-mentioned VGB Conference, which also presented papers on process steam from biomass in the textile industry, forecast about the impacts of wood co-combustion on boiler behaviour in the Moabit heating plant as well as a lecture on the conversion of a biomass power plant with fluidised bed firing into a combined cycle power plant. The paper on “fuel leaflets” from the viewpoint of a chemist was also a very interesting contribution. I could go on with the list and add another hundred examples that deal with the highly sensitive balance of supply security, sustainability and economic efficiency. We are learning from each other, but we hardly can transfer any experience completely to any other region. Plants, individual local situation, requirements and availability of fuels differ locally. That will remain and is part of the successful secure and possible independent energy supply.

There is nothing that provides more flexibility at these stormy days than local and regional uniqueness. With a share of 25 % of renewables, Germany has already implemented the “Energiewende”.

However, renewables and conventional energies are no good team in these days – but they are to become a good team quickly: together and not against each other is a good strategy. In economy this policy is called “coopetition”, i.e. the merger between cooperation and competition. When VW and Ford can develop joint cars, VW Sharan or Ford Galaxy, this demonstrates how far “competitors” can cooperate. Yet conventional energies shoulder the transformation towards “green energy supply”. Conventional plants not only secure energy supply but also finance the change towards more renewables-based energy generation and at the same time they are striving permanently for optimising their own generation and decrease of any environmental burden.

I would like to get more respect for the desired cooperation between classical conventional energy generation and renewables, because this cooperation will be needed for a number of decades. Besides, I would like to receive more appreciation for our staff that works 365 days per year at 24 hours under increasingly difficult conditions. Finally I also would like a political voice that understands the complexity of local energy supply in a global market.

Could this voice maybe come from the automobile sector? Since years the automobile sector has been working successfully for Germany and as global example with high technological and structural changes. New markets are conquered, new drive concepts and new mobility services are being developed and new grids are being invented. Energy policy and energy generation can learn from these approaches.