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Ten ways that power generation defined 2019: the top 10 stories in Power Engineering

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Well, 2019  is almost in the books, and it’s been about as eventful and change-worthy as most other years. In other words, it’s been as intense as ever.

On the surface, 2019 for power generators looked pretty routine compared to recent history within the industry. Coal-fired and nuclear plants were retired, while combined cycle gas turbine facilities proliferated. Wind and solar rose dramatically. Nuclear got older.

The stories that readers of Power Engineering flocked to, however, defied those easy and misleading categories. The faithful clicked on pieces about technologies that “trendmakers” consider doomed, unlikely or struggling at best. They wanted to read about peers moving up or moving out or, worse, gone.

This is not a top 10 list of the most read stories on our website. Instead, each entry is a catch-all for a particular type of story which gained wide traction in Power Engineering in 2019.

All in all, perhaps this offers insights into what our readers are thinking, concerned about or anticipating. They are worth another look.

Vogtle expansion (courtesy Georgia Power).
  1. The future of nuclear is unknown, but we are clearly eager to know more

Of the top 10 pages opened by our readers, four were about nuclear energy technologies on projects. Whether it was a “what if” column on the possibility of thorium as a fuel for the future, or updates on Georgia Power’s tenacious effort to get the Vogtle 3 and 4 reactors built, nuclear seemed to capture the most attention.

2. Turbine sector is getting ready…and getting more competitive

It seems like nearly all of the major players have struggled. GE already had split off that part of its business—while Siemens announced its own impending split. Meanwhile, a longtime EPC and services firm, Doosan Heavy Industries of South Korea, revealed plans for its own large gas turbine, possibly sending it into top-line competition with the Big Four that includes Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Ansaldo Energia, GE and Siemens. All four of these players also are considering futures utilizing hydrogen in the fuel mix.

On-site power was also adapting gas-fired technologies, as reciprocating engines were being deployed to offer load following and stabilization services in areas where renewable energy concentration was heaviest.

3. Forgive us if we’re old-fashioned…but chillers still thrill us

We’ll play it cool when it comes to this part of the best-read content 2019 in Power Engineering. Some pieces focused on condenser performance monitoring or cooling tower heat transfer. Either way, Power Engineering readers are a smart lot who want to learn more on the inside workings of the modern power plant. Our contributors are happy and more than able to oblige.

4. Energy storage is still a question mark, but a lot of people are asking

A January 2019 webcast on “The Growth of Battery Storage for the Off-grid/Mini-grid Market” drew exceptional readership interest up to and following the broadcast itself. Bloomberg, HOMER Energy and Trojan Battery looked at statistics affirming the growth of energy storage and exploring the way forward.

Utilities are stepping tentatively but unmistakably into the battery sector. Dominion and Duke Energy both have projects going forward, Key Capture Energy completed the largest installation in New York.

The utility-scale battery option, however, is expensive and requires serious safety oversights. An Arizona Public Service, AES joint venture facility exploded earlier this year, injuring four firefighters. This search for safeguards also resulted in an important energy storage breakthroughs session at POWERGEN International this November in New Orleans.

And the Energy Storage Breakthroughs Summit at POWERGEN was that event’s most well-attended track.

5. Entergy Corp. building big-time gas-fired capacity

Many utilities are building new CCGT plants globally, but for some reason the stories surrounding Entergy’s new projects proved extremely popular. The New Orleans-based utility announced it was adding 4 GW of new gas-fired capacity in coming years, including the recently completed St. Charles Power Station in nearby Montz. With its Montgomery County project, Entergy also is building its first new Texas capacity in several decades.

6. Are you tired of our gas? Apparently not

Haha, forgive us a little levity with a (very small) joke, but the expansion in gas-fired power generation capacity both in the U.S. and globally was no laughing matter. It’s official: the U.S. Energy Information Agency has confirmed that domestic combined-cycle capacity now exceeds coal-fired, 264 GW to 243.

Companies like MHPS, Siemens and beyond are also supplying CCGT plants all around the world. And IHS Markit reported that U.S. gas production was reaching an astounding 90 billion cubic feet per day.

Now put those last two facts together, and you have the makings for our Number 7.

7. The ETA for LNG is now

This past year marked a turning point for approval, construction and commissioning of liquefied natural gas export terminals along the U.S. coasts. Utilities, conventional oil and gas firms and startups are all vying for space to take some of that excess U.S. gas, freeze it for stable shipping and send it to power generation markets around the world.

The Natural Gas Knowledge Hub at POWERGEN19, which offered numerous sessions on LNG ventures, was one of the most popular content offerings there.

8. C&I Customers want wind and solar in the market

We’re talking just a few companies here, little names like ….Amazon, Google, Microsoft, AT&T and Facebook. They may not off-take clean energy directly, but they want renewables in the grid. Corporate power purchase agreements help finance utility-scale wind and solar projects.

Photo courtesy Enel Green Power.

Michael Terrell, head of energy market development at Google, told Power Engineering back in January that zero-carbon energy made great business sense for long-term investment. Clean energy, fixed-price contracts are very attractive. Since 2010, the internet giant has signed to offset the cost of more than 30 solar and wind projects across the Americas and Europe.

New virtual PPAs signed by AT&T recently pushed that company’s clean energy investment to more than 1.5 GW.

9. And let us not forget coal

Sure, Trump Administration energy regulators have worried about the pace of coal-fired plant retirements. Nonetheless, coal still generates nearly 30 percent of the U.S. and global electricity mixes.

And while nothing new is planned in the U.S. and Europe, major projects are going forward mainly in Asia. Coal is going to be around for a while. A long while.

10. In Memorium

McCallum

We could have put this one much higher, but felt it was an appropriate way to end this story. Power Engineering readers value the contributions of those who give their time and energies into this industry, so we all read with sadness on the death of Christopher McCallum, a principal consultant at Lummus and member of the POWERGEN International advisory committee.

McCallum died in Boston at the age of only 44. Prior to Lummus he had worked for NextEra Energy Resources and had been operations manager and chief engineer of a 300-MW combined cycle in New England.

Nichols

The industry also mourned the passing of Ron Nichols, most recently president of Southern California Edison. Nichols served in a career that spanned SCE, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Navigant Consulting and Resource Management International.

Here’s looking forward to a happier, more productive and powerful 2020.

Thank you.

The Clarion Energy Content Directors of Power Engineering