EU Energy Targets – It’s Not a Black or White Scenario
Mar 26, 2014
Keiran Coulton

This is the first of a series my team and I worked on regarding secure and stable power.  Today’s power systems are challenged by the increase of large scale power demands in regions with weaker grid connections, the shut-off of older power plants and a trend to larger distances between power generation and consumption.

At the same time, renewable power generation has grown into both distribution and transmission systems which affect network performance and need to be managed to ensure the reliability of the grid on all levels. Power trading across borders becomes a driver for more interconnectors across regions.

In this blog I’m taking a microscopic look at this challenge in a region near to me personally as well as the headquarters of the Power Conversion business: the European Union.

EU stakeholders are currently engaged in a debate over new targets to cut carbon emissions while increasing the use of renewable energy as part of the European Commission’s proposed 2030 policy framework for climate and energy.

Setting targets is important in terms of holding member states accountable and paving the way for a cleaner energy future, though we also need to consider the overall context of our future energy challenge. Net-new build power, renewable or otherwise, as it’s currently planned, will not meet the energy demand projected over the next 15 years.

Modernising the aging European electrical generation, distribution and transmission systems could help us to meet these energy demands and targets. The same could also be applied to achieve the same efficiencies in our heavy industries. Together, these will make a significant contribution to achieving a cleaner energy future.

Consider four key areas:

  1. In power generation, modern turbines are more efficient than many of the 25+ year old turbines in use today, significantly boosting output for the same fuel output.
  2. Coal power plants will remain an essential part of base load energy mix, and increasing efficiency and cleanliness of power plants is driven by modern turbines and smart drive technology in auxiliary systems.
  3. In transmission, high voltage DC transmission can be twice as efficient as AC transmission and requires narrower corridors (i.e., less land) than its AC equivalent.
  4. And as the global population continues to increase to nearly 9 billion people by 2040, transmission and distribution become even more challenging. Countries increasingly need transmission lines over longer distances from remote generation to urban and industrial demand centers. Cross-border power trading and interconnections are at the top of many agendas.

And indeed, in heavy industry, which uses a significant amount of the grid’s output, there are huge opportunities to drive efficiency through modernisation. Introducing electric variable speed drives to replace mechanical systems in metals production and mining alone, for example, could have a dramatic impact on the energy required—similar to replacing modern turbines in power plants. The same is true in oil & gas production, where modernising the pumps and compressors in use, driving innovation in subsea production , and using on-site renewables to power key industrial processes will drive a significant reduction in the requirement for energy from the grid, and support a more sustainable energy future.

In short, infrastructure modernisation is one way Europe can work towards meeting increased energy demand, and will also help reduce carbon emissions. We need to make the energy backbone more efficient, or we risk heading into an energy dilemma. At the same time, industry needs to work to curb energy wastage and drive the efficiencies it can to slow the rate of demand growth.  In developed countries, secure and stable power supply at high power quality, smart technologies and modernisation of ageing infrastructure are key to maximize the potential from the resource “energy efficiency.”

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Keiran Coulton

Keiran Coulton is the General Manager of the Industry vertical for GE’s Power Conversion business. Keiran started with GE in 2011 as the president of GE Energy’s Global Industries platform. Prior to GE, Keiran spent a long career at Rockwell as President of their Asia Pacific Region, and Senior Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing. Keiran started his career as an engineer with the Royal Navy.