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Microturbine Sessions 2003: A Review

by Debbie Haught, Microturbine Program Manager, Office of Distributed Energy, U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C., USA

Abstract

Microturbines were once again a popular topic at ASME TURBO EXPO 2003, held last June in Atlanta, Georgia. Microturbines, small combustion turbines about the size of a refrigerator with outputs from 25 to 500 kW, are commercially available from five suppliers with other developers potentially entering the market. Microturbines and other distributed energy devices such as fuel cells and reciprocating engines supply local energy systems that generate electric, thermal or mechanical energy on or near customer sites. With microturbines, customers are reducing energy costs, avoiding power outages like the Northeast Blackout of 2003, reducing environmental impacts and meeting premium power needs. These customers include supermarkets, hotels, stores, industrial facilities, waste water treatment plants, schools and a whole host of others.

The three panel sessions hosted by the Microturbine & Small Turbomachinery Committee explored the status and advancements in microturbine technology and reviewed operating experiences in various applications. Microturbine developers discussed design and performance improvements in turbomachinery, combustion systems, and recuperators for current products. Development efforts for next generation high efficiency engines and integrated combined heat and power (CHP) packages were also presented. Representatives of users discussed the installation and operational experiences of microturbines in various applications in the United States and Canada. At the end of the meeting, the sentiment from the speakers and participants was that microturbines are a successful new technology on the verge of making significant penetration into the marketplace. Improvements are continuing to be made in the technology at the same time as more and more applications are being identified for microturbines and integrated microturbine based CHP packages. Public awareness of the technology continues to grow and this is fostering increased acceptance of microturbines and distributed generation. More detailed information about the 2003 sessions can be found on the web at: http://www.eere.energy.gov/der/turbo_expo_conf_03.html

Microturbine Users Panel

This session heard experiences from five speakers who discussed the various applications of microturbines. David Van Holde of Platts Research and Consulting kicked off the session with a summary of a multi-client study of early adopters of microturbines which included 52 in-depth interviews with microturbine users in Europe and North America. Key findings of the study concluded that microturbines are a successful new technology—though still a niche business. Early units had some reliability problems; but predicted microturbine life now seems likely based on later performance. He also pointed out that microturbines have a number of unique attributes compared to reciprocating engines. Highlighted successful applications of microturbine included: 1) Direct use of

© 2004 ASME International Gas Turbine Institute 1

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