Decentralised Power Generation

Business Week outlines many ideas to tackle the power problems that the US is facing. The ideas are applicable to other countries also. One of them is about using distributed sources of power.

If subway systems, hospitals, factories, office buildings, and even homes had their own power sources, blackouts would be far less disrupting. And these small generators — everything from solar panels and windmills to diesel-powered facilities and small turbines — could feed their excess electricity into the grid, reducing the need for new power plants and transmission lines. “In my lifetime, there’s going to be a paradigm shift to distributed resources,” predicts Shalom Zelingher, director of research and technology development at the New York Power Authority. One reason Zelingher and most other energy experts are sanguine: So-called distributed power schemes can save money, especially when generators are attached to the grid. Companies with their own power sources can use the cheapest electricity — theirs or the grid’s — and also sell excess power back to the system.

Washington Post writes about do-it-yourself power generation:

A growing number of U.S. businesses, universities, government agencies and others rely on their own power sources for part or all of their operations, often to help protect them from outages.

The U.S. Combined Heat and Power Association says about 8 percent of electrical capacity in the United States comes from these facilities — called cogeneration facilities or distributed power.

Advances in technology have made it easier to produce power at factories, refineries and office parks rather than rely on massive utility-operated power plants and the large regional transmission grids that serve most customers. As opposed to backup generators that are designed to be used in emergencies, the units serve a company’s ongoing power needs. They take natural gas or other fuel, run it through a turbine to produce electricity, and then use the heat produced in power generation for other commercial or industrial processes.

In most cases, the companies remain connected to the grid, continuing to purchase part of their power and occasionally selling power back to the utilities when they have excess capacity. New technology also allows the companies that use distributed power to almost instantly disconnect from the grid if a problem arises outside their sites.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.