PowerGen Hints at Industrial Trends

The comments of exhibitors and attendees at the recent PowerGen International show in Orlando revealed quite a bit about the industrial big picture. Distributed generation (DG) and cogeneration remained hot topics but are still obstructed by a number of barriers, particularly the IEEE 547 interconnection standard.

02/01/2003


The comments of exhibitors and attendees at the recent PowerGen International show in Orlando revealed quite a bit about the industrial big picture.

Distributed generation (DG) and cogeneration remained hot topics but are still obstructed by a number of barriers, particularly the IEEE 547 interconnection standard. One of the positives coming out of the show was the keynote address by Nora Mead Powell, commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The commissioner noted that FERC will "demand" that things change as far as utility barriers hindering on-site power development.

For example, in California, one engineer involved in several industrial design-build projects told CSE that the major power utilities there are trying to force a surcharge on businesses that want to leave the grid. Not only will this deter DG efforts, but the Catch 22, he believes, is that the state's existing grid will not be able to support demand once the economy recovers, forcing more customers to look at alternative power sources. The move is currently being fought. In the meantime, he notes he has three projects designed but in a holding pattern until this issue is resolved.

Another trend that may help DG's cause is a concept known as the virtual powerplant. Windsor, Colo.-based Encorp is one practitioner of this method, where the company basically monitors and controls an end user's generators, even across multiple sites. "We definitely think this monitoring service/infrastructure is helping push the whole DG notion. In fact it may help push some companies into pursuing self generation as we provide them the security of someone else dealing with the headaches," says Dennis Orwig, the company's CEO.

For example, Chicago's police department is one current customer, and after a Chicago Tribune article on the concept, Orwig noted Encorp received calls from as far away as Japan, and closer to home, from a hospital in Northern California that experienced a power outtage where their backup system didn't start, resulting in patient deaths.

Hopefully, such a drastic measure won't be necessary to get people to pursue on-site generation and combined heat and power (CHP). Other manufacturers certainly proved they believe in the concept, judging by the new products exhibited at PowerGen.

Wisconsin-based Kohler, for example, is spending a significant amount of resources developing its line of on-site power products, including a combined microturbine/cogen unit. In fact, they've teamed with British partner Bohman Power to shore up their CHP offerings.

Mark Repp, a marketing manager with the company, thinks microturbines have a future, especially because of their clean emissions, but right now it's a matter of financing.

"There is no major push for it in the market right now, even though the [U.S.] Dept. of Energy is a big supporter," he says. "Legislation in the future might help, especially if emissions become an issue."

On that subject, Caterpillar unveiled a new genset, also with a CHP option. Its big news, however, was that its new G3500 line is fired by natural gas. Besides lower NO x emissions, the company says the unit delivers 43.5% mechanical efficiency and high power density, which the Caterpillar says should translate into fewer generators and fewer interconnects. On the other hand, natural gas is a minority fuel source for most generators. According to Mike Devine, Caterpillar's gas product marketing manager, it's just a matter of time before genset owners make the switch. "I like to make the analogy of cars and gasoline prices in the 1970s. Gas prices went up and the size of car engines changed," he says.

Diesel storage, he adds, is also becoming a real issue, especially on the East Coast and particularly in the Carolinas.

He notes that the majority of customers interested in the product to date come from the industrial side and are mostly interested in getting off the grid a few hours a day. The cogen aspect is also appealing for reusing heat, but strangely enough, Devine has found that the implementation of such equipment has really helped customers broker rate restructuring deals with their utilities.

Cummins Power Generation is also responding to this trend, presenting what they say is the first 2.7-MW generator on the market. While it is a diesel unit, it can be upgraded with a selective catalytic reduction aftertreatment option.

Speaking to things geared toward industrial users, Cutler-Hammer offered a slew of new products, including its InsulGard predictive relay system, which guards against corona problems. The manufacturer also had a significant amount of replacement and upgrade offerings. For example, they showed a new line of medium-voltage vacuum breakers designed specifically to fit into the space of the older units they replace.

"It's great for updating old switchgear," says Bill Vasiladiotis, Cutler-Hammer's utility segment vice president. Vasiladiotis notes that the capital market for big-ticket equipment is still soft. "But you have to spend money to maintain what you have, so we're trying to accommodate that need, yet still provide an upgrade," he says.





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