Takeaways from Power Gen keynote session

Last week’s PowerGen International show in Orlando brought together close to 20,000 people for the industry’s biggest gathering. Three hundred speakers and almost 80 sessions covering just about every conceivable side of the industry.

 The first keynote came from Rick Hali, Senior Vice President and General Manager for Energy at Burns & McDonnell. He discussed a trend toward flexible generation, driven by government policy. He said baseload coal and nuclear was being replaced by gas and renewables. He gave the example of the City of Denton, TX which has added 255 MW of reciprocating engine power to provide rapid ramp rates from multiple units that would require multiple starts per day.

 He then zeroed in on how the industry was being impacted by a greater focus on the consumer (whether that is an individual power consumer or a facility).

 “They want reliability, resiliency, security, and sustainability,” said Hali. “Nowadays, the consumer has more control than ever and we are seeing more commercial companies exerting control.”

A major outcrop of this is Combined Heat & Power (CHP). Universities, hospitals and refineries are grabbing their energy future and building projects so they control their own destiny, added Hali. Some are even setting up microgrids for their facilities where they take care of their own generation, transmission, control and storage. He ended with the example of the Eight Flags CHP project in Florida’s Amelia Island. CHP. This 20 MW plant provides steam, heated water and power via a Solar Titan 250 turbine.

 Alex Glenn, President of Duke Energy Florida, gave the second keynote. He argued that since the Edison v Westinghouse fight over AC and DC power, there had been no major transformational change in the industry – until 2007 with the release of the iPhone.

 “This reinvented the way we buy things, how we do commerce, and it changed our industry,” said Glenn. “Such devices give customers control.”

 This means utilities are not measured against other power providers. They are measured against online services such as Uber, Amazon Prime and Google. That’s the level of service that customers expect of a utility. His solution to this shift is for the industry to invest even more in smart grid technology to be able to treat customers as individuals. But he also said, that further investment was needed in power generation and energy storage.

 Accordingly, Duke is investing $40 billion over next couple of decades. For example, its portfolio includes 2,200 MW of peakers that are close to the end of their useful life.

 William Meixner, CEO of Siemens followed. His key market drivers included sustainability, economic efficiency and achieving an optimized mix of supply.

“We need to balance renewable with flexible and reliable power generation assets,” he said.

He pointed out that 2015 marked the first year when the global investment in renewables exceeded all other power investments. He expects that trend to continue.

Meixner also discussed digitization and the value it can bring to power generation. He sees this in terms of being able to view power generation as a whole, rather than just one plant or one asset.

“Digital value creation is expected to lead the way in power generation in the coming years,” he said.

The final keynote came from Anthony Wilson of Mississippi Power, who spoke about the soon to be commissioned Kemper County Energy Facility. It takes lignite and converts it to gas using coal from a nearby lignite mine. Two coal gasifiers and an onsite chemical plant strip out anhydrous ammonia, sulfuric acid and carbon dioxide to produce clean coal-based power.