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When Thomas Edison established his first power plant, he did so with the idea of producing power on-site, near the end-user – hence the origin of distributed generation (DG). As cities grew, they turned increasingly to large, centralized power plants. These power plants create large amounts of pollution and run on fossil fuels, of which we only have a finite supply.
Today, we are seeing a renewed interest in the very simple concept of on-site power production, which eliminates the need for power lines, increases a consumer’s control over their power supply, and encourages very efficient generation, which can often be used for multiple purposes (electric and thermal needs). There are several technologies easily used as on-site generation: solar panels, small wind turbines, clean microturbines, alternative fuel reciprocating engines, and fuel cells.
Every technology has an ideal application. Solar panels are well suited for remote locations, where it is prohibitively expensive to run power lines, and urban settings, because sun is the only electric resource readily available in the city, and because they make no noise. Wind turbines must be situated in those areas where wind blows consistently and hard. Diesel generators do well as emergency backup units, because they are only run a few hours a year and because they start up quickly when the power goes out.
However, diesel generators should not be used in other applications because of their significant emissions. Diesel exhaust contains several known toxins and carcinogenic elements. Many of these units are located at nose level in the heart of the city, and as such, pose a very direct threat to human health. Additionally, as most of the urban areas in Texas now face EPA non-attainment for ozone status, it would be foolhardy to allow diesel generators to run more than a few hours a month. Their emissions could contribute serious amounts of pollution to the air and undermine other attempts to improve air quality. The report “Micropower at the Crossroads” explains the potential hazards of misusing diesel, and the comparative benefits of turning to more clean DG.
What has Texas done about distributed generation? In 2001, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) adopted the Air Quality Standard Permit for Electric Generating Units. It establishes stricter emissions standards for any unit that is going to be run more than an emergency generator. “Peak shaving” units, which run to offset high utility bills when demand is at its highest, must now meet these new requirements. However, this permit does not address emissions from old, grandfathered units, which have the potential to add tons of pollution to the air during the ozone season. We are working with the TCEQ to address this problem and fix the loophole before we encounter further air quality problems from these sources.
As regards emergency backup units, they should:
As regards DG units, they should:
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