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Publication Title | Distributed Generation – An Alternative

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Distributed Generation – An Alternative By: Mark B. Cavallaro, P.E.

Principal of Current Solutions, P.C.

Users of alternative power sources range from a restaurant using a micro turbine generator to lower its monthly electric utility bill to an office complex installing a fuel cell to run its data center allowing a savings to extensive facility electrical distribution equipment and system modifications.

Distributed generation is no longer just for large manufacturing facilities and/or industrial plants. A convergence of trends is sparking interest in distributed generation (DG) also known as distributed power (DP). They include an increased demand for reliable and high quality electric power, shrinking reserve capacity, troubles with deregulation and restructuring of the electricity industry, an aging and under-built electric power transmission grid that is increasingly overloaded and widespread opposition to construction of new power plants.

Improvements in technology and a growing demand for environmental friendliness in power generation has seen an increase in use of DG products. Distributed power is modular electric generation or energy storage located at or near the point of use. It ensures continued electricity during system outages, maintaining electric reliability and can allow customers to save money by switching to distributed generation during high cost peak periods or take advantage of peak shaving incentives offered by utility companies.

DG also provides stand-alone, remote power generation where the electric utility connection point is not readily available. Homes, commercial buildings and manufacturing facilities can generate electricity with the use of small DG systems such as; micro turbines, solar cells, wind turbines, diesel generators and fuel cells. Each of these sources can either be connected to the electric utility for parallel operation or operate independently for stand-by operation.

DG systems typically range in size from less than a kilowatt (1 kw) to tens of megawatts. Because these distributed power systems are typically closer to the user, and possibly used only by the user, the chances of outages occurring are decreased.

If distributed power systems are connected for parallel operation with the electric utility, then users could buy and sell excess power back to the utility and could add to the utility companies grid capacity. The connection arrangement and selling of electricity will vary with each electric utility company.

DG faces several roadblocks such as regulatory processes, which will increase the cost of new distributed power projects. Current practices still reflect the previously regulated electricity industry dominated by utilities with rate structures that are not priced to reflect benefits that distributed generation can provide. One of the biggest roadblocks distributed power faces is how each state and utility company has different interconnection requirements. Simplifying these requirements would help minimize engineering and design costs, streamline the installation of distributed systems and increase safety with more reliable, standardized protective relaying systems.

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