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POWER-GEN International @ 20:A Look Back at Issues and Events from 1988

Issue 3 and Volume 112.

Twenty years ago on page 6 of the January 1988 edition of Power Engineering magazine, a full-age ad introduced “POWER-GEN ‘88” to the world. The inaugural event, which grew to become POWER-GEN International, was held at the Orlando Convention Center from December 6-8. The event covered fossil and solid fuel power generation, including coal, oil, natural gas, municipal solid waste and other waste fuels. “Paper abstracts are invited,” the ad read. That opened the floodgates, which, over the next 20 years, would see thousands of papers researched, written and presented at the world’s largest and most prestigious exhibition and conference for the power generation industry.

Power Engineering magazine has been PGI’s flagship media sponsor since the beginning 20 years ago. This year to celebrate PGI’s 20th anniversary we’ll take a look back at some of the issues and events that were making news. A lot of the same issues continue to make news today.

With the 2008 Major League baseball season about to get underway, fans like to remember that the game’s immortal players (those enshrined at Cooperstown) could walk onto any diamond today and see few noticeable changes from their own playing days.

In many ways, electric power generation enjoys that same sort of constancy. The basic systems and processes are largely the same as they were in, say, 1908. So it’s not too surprising to read stories from the March 1988 issue of Power Engineering magazine touching on themes that appear quite contemporary.

“Power plants upgrade instrumentation and control systems,” reads the cover headline for the March 1988 issue. The story explained how microprocessor-based distributed digital control systems and programmable logic controllers were being retrofitted to older power plants to improve efficiency and optimize operations.

A related feature explained how programmable logic controllers could be retrofitted to existing control systems.

A third feature examined dust fire and explosion hazards, noting that coal dust hazards could be classified using four indexes: ignition sensitivity, explosion severity, overall explosibility and friability.

The news headlines from March 1988 may offer a better indication of how things have changed over 20 years.

One news brief carried news that Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) in late January had filed for protection under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code. The utility, the news brief said, “is burdened by debt from the Seabrook nuclear plant.” Although the plant was complete, it was not operating because of a dispute over evacuation planning. The utility had also asked for a 15 percent rate increase, but the state’s Supreme Court denied it, saying the plant had to be producing power for it to receive an increase. Opponents argued the plant should not be licensed because of the utility’s financial problems.

(Yet to be reported was the fact that during March 1988, Northeast Utilities revealed its interest in acquiring PSNH. After extensive negotiations, NU reached agreement near the end of 1989. On June 5, 1990 PSNH became a wholly-owned operating unit of NU.)

In Illinois, also during March 1988, Commonwealth Edison’s Braidwood unit 2 received a low power operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Braidwood unit 2 was the last unit in the company’s nuclear construction program. That program included 13 units, construction of which began in the early 1970s.

Then there was this sunny forecast regarding photovoltaic solar costs: a 50 percent reduction was expected over the next 12 to 18 months, according to an official at the U.S. Department of Energy. Since 1980, the cost of PV solar had fallen from $1.50/kW to $0.35. Cell efficiency stood at 5 percent a few years earlier, but crystalline solar cells with 22 percent sunlight-to-electricity efficiencies were being reported. And efficiencies in the 30 to 40 percent range were projected for thin-film silicon solar cells. DOE’s goal? To develop PV solar technology capable of generating electricity for $0.06/kW. The DOE official was quoted as saying, “We feel that’s achievable.”