Commercial Power Technologies
Putting Power Back in the Hands of the People
Gas and electric utilities are undergoing dramatic restructuring in the wake of deregulation.
Building new transmission lines is not only expensive but also difficult and time taking not to mention the maintenance bottlenecks. The future of electric power will likely be an increased use of new fuels and technologies thus relying less and less on big oil, nuclear and coal power plants. Costs of Distributed Generation technologies have come down over the past five years and are more and more cost competitive when compared to the cost of new transmission lines, will win out.
When you absolutely can't afford to be without power, not even for a second, Distributed Generation technologies may be for you. What is Distributed Generation? DG provides electricity for your home or business through the use of small-scale power generation technology at or near the point of use. Make no mistake, DG is here and here to stay. The US Postal Service in Anchorage, Alaska uses it to produce one megawatt of electricity and is the primary source of power for the Anchorage Mail Processing Center. During a grid outage, the five fuel cells transition seamlessly allowing the facility to operate continuously.
A number of DG technologies use gas, including reciprocating engines, fuel cells and microturbines. Engines and turbines have been around for decades and reflect mature technologies, while microturbines and fuel cells are relatively new. Other technologies that use renewable energy are wind turbines and photovoltaics.
Gas technologies have contributed to significant gains in industrial energy efficiency in the past two decades. Unlike grid power, which has seen its reliability called into question lately, off-grid solutions like fuel cells (link to history of fuel cells) give residential and commercial users direct control over their own energy production. They also operate with very little noise. Like the cellular telephone industry, the first customers were those who wanted services without being restricted by cords or cables. However, it wasn't until the pricing became competitive that usage of the service became universal. We predict a similar trend for off-grid power. By bringing the costs down to where they can aggressively compete with on-grid electric service, consumers get their first real chance to make a choice.
DG technologies use gas to produce electricity in an environmentally friendly way. Other fuel sources that can also be used include biomass, propane, methane or anything rich in hydrocarbons. Among their many advantages, they truly put the power back in the hands of the people.
. Generator 2
. Inlet air 3
. Combustion chamber 4
Air to recuperator 5
. Compressor 6
. Turbine 7
. Recuperator 8
Exhaust gases 9
. Exhaust gas exchanger 10
. Exhaust gas outlet 11
Hot water outlet 12
. Water inlet
A number of fallacious arguments often appear in discussions of DG . Since many
of these arguments appear "reasonable" at first glance, it is useful
to address them before presenting recommendations for integrating DG in utility
Current natural gas shortages make DG a bad option. Wrong. Using natural gas
for onsite generation and capturing the resulting waste heat actually stretches
current supplies further. Instead of sending gas to a utility turbine where
half or more of the gas energy is lost as waste heat, it should be sent to a DG
system where only 15 percent or so is lost to waste heat. Gas savings can also
be achieved by switching to oil at dual-fuel central power plants where the
added benefit of more effective pollution controls will also reduce the overall
level of emissions.
DG isn't economical except for large industrial customers. Ten years ago, this
was true; it no longer is. System costs make DG an attractive option for 15 -
25 percent of customer energy use in commercial and industrial sectors.
Improvements in equipment costs are likely to increase this potential to as
much as 30 percent by the end of this decade.
DG can't make a big enough difference to have an impact on the system. Reducing
system loads by even a small amount when the system is at or near capacity has
a substantial impact on system reliability. DG contributions can significantly
improve transmission and distribution system reliability.
DG causes safety problems for utilities. A great deal of effort over the last
several years has resulted in a final set of industry standards that addresses
safety and other interconnection issues.
The DG market isn't mature enough to provide substantial benefits to the
electric system. DG opponents often point to the high current cost of fuel
cells to suggest that DG cannot provide an economic solution to today's energy
problems. The DG market includes a variety of technologies which vary in their
development stages. As pointed out above, engines and turbines have been used
for decades and can easily be integrated in the current electric system. At
this moment thousands of companies are using DG to lower their electric bills
and improve reliability - DG is not the distant technology option portrayed by
some media reports.