What is distributed energy?
Distributed generation (DG) is the production of power at the same location it is used. Producing power on-site, rather than traditional power generation plants, can greatly reduce the high costs, difficulty, codependency, and inadequacies of traditional transmission and distribution. Distributed generation transfers control to the end user.
In the not too distant past, the only viable source of distributed energy generation was limited to internal combustion generators, most often diesel. While diesel generators were generally cost effective and fairly dependable, they were not clean. The burning of dirty fuels for energy production in a distant location, i.e. traditional energy plant, is tolerable for most people, having a dirty energy source directly outside your home or business is far less than desirable.
Recent advances in small scale power production from renewable resources are changing the face and future of distributed energy generation. It is becoming more and more advantageous from both cost and environmental standpoints to look towards distributed energy now and to carry us into the future.
Types of distributed energy generation
Distributed energy production technology includes:
• Combustion Turbines
• Micro Turbines
• Small Steam Turbines
• Wind Turbines
• Fuels Cells
• Photovoltaic Solar Systems
Photovoltaic solar power systems have become the most popular distributed generation option for most non-commercial applications. Solar power systems are pollution free, completely quiet and extremely affordable. In areas that allow for grid tie-in a small photovoltaic system will produce more than enough electrical power to support a home or business.
Advantages of distributed energy
Distributed energy proponents have stated that DG can increase the efficiency of delivering electricity to the consumer. By reducing distances electricity must travel from a centralized power plant on old congested infrastructure alone can save very close to 10% of electricity that is currently wasted. DV also offers protection from “brown-outs” or interrupted service during peak usage times.
Distributed energy production may also be used in the creation of microgrids. A micro-grid is a small scale localized grid that can operate on its own or in conjunction with a traditional centralized grid. Microgrids are installed by the community they serve. Microgrids would typically take advantage of renewable resources, such as solar hybrid power systems, which significantly reduce the amount of carbon emissions.
Future of distributed energy
There is no longer any debate as to whether or not distributed energy production will continue to grow throughout the United States. The debate has shifted to how existing utilities will incorporate distributed energy into their existing networks. The development of smart grids has become the favored option for incorporation. A smart grid is an automated technology designed to allow the utility to adjust, monitor and control each individual DV source, device or millions of devices from a central location.
Although there are many challenges in the adoption of smart grid technology, smart grids offer many benefits above and beyond the usage of renewable energy. As stated by the California Energy Commission (CEC):
“The investment in doing so… is desirable or even necessary for reasons other than reducing carbon emissions – namely, economy and reliability of electric service.”
Distributed energy will require a smarter grid due to the variable nature of solar and wind, but it will also provide increased grid stability and reliability. Upgrading to smart grid technology incorporating distributed energy resources is definitely the future and distributed energy is an investment that will offer immediate returns.