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Fortnightly Magazine - February 1 1999

Technology is mature, says trade group exec for distributed power.

The general reader might receive the false impression upon reading Joseph F. Schuler Jr.'s article on distributed generation that distributed generation is limited to emerging technologies like microturbines and fuel cells (see "Distributed Generation: A 'Hot Corner' for Venture Capital?" Public Utilities Fortnightly, Oct. 15, 1998, p. 40). Indeed, this is a common misconception.

While it is true that these new technologies hold great promise, the simple fact is that distributed generation has been with us for decades, and the most widely used technologies for DG involve mature technologies that are very affordable and environmentally friendly.

The most common form of new generation in the United States today involves aeroderivative turbine technology fueled by natural gas, distillates or biogas. What most people don't realize is these turbines aren't just for central generation or independent power plants. Mid-sized aeroderivative or industrial turbines in the 5- to 10-megawatt range, for example, are a choice technology for industrial on-site generation, particularly for combined heat and power projects, where energy efficiencies can reach the 80 to 90 percent range. The installed price of mid-sized turbines ranges from $300 to $870/kilowatt, with operating and maintenance costs of just 0.2 to 0.8 cents/kilowatt-hour.

Advanced turbine systems, which will be available in the 4- to 5-MW size in 1999, increase the efficiency of electric generation, with expected electric production of less than 3 cents/kWh. These systems can also be used in a combined heat and power operation.

Diesel technology also has come a long way in the last 30 years or so. Traditional gensets aren't the dirty little engines sitting on standby in the basement anymore. Diesel gensets in the 50-kW to 5-MW range have an installed capital cost of only $200 to $250/kW, operation and maintenance costs of only 0.5 cents/kWh, and produce only 0.022 to 0.25 lb/kWh of nitrogen oxide emissions when operated with diesel fuel. For reciprocating engines fueled by natural gas or other gaseous fuels, those emissions are reduced to a range of 0.0015 to 0.037 lb/kWh.

It's time to stop thinking about distributed generation as exotic technology that's not yet available. Microturbines and fuel cells - while exciting and becoming more commercially available - tell only part of the story. The truth is that mature, tested distributed generation equipment is now available at reasonable rates, across a range of sizes.

Sarah McKinley

Executive Director

Distributed Power Coalition of America

Washington, D.C.

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