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April 17, 2017   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

What Do a Remote Alaskan Village and a Bustling Town Center in New Jersey Have in Common?

Many rural regions across the country do not have access to the electricity grid and rely on microgrids for prime power. Diesel generators are quite often the preferred technology given the durability of the technology, energy density and ease of delivery of the fuel.


Power plants and the electricity grid are very much in the news these days. When it comes to the future of electricity generation, states and regions have different priorities. Despite different visions of the future, diesel generators play an important role in achieving many of these priorities.

Is it grid resiliency? Is it smart grid technology? Is it greater reliance on renewables? Is it distributed generation? In almost every instance, the population of diesel generators, whether for prime power or for emergency backup, is an important element in achieving this vision.

Many rural regions across the country do not have access to the electricity grid and rely on microgrids for prime power. Diesel generators are quite often the preferred technology given the durability of the technology, energy density and ease of delivery of the fuel. However, one of the drawbacks to the use of diesel engines for prime power is the expense of the fuel. Nowhere is this more evident than in Alaska. Diesel engines are quite frequently the sole technology under the roof of many powerhouses in remote locations across the state, and Alaska is the state with the highest cost of providing electricity. To help reduce this expense and harness the almost-free cost of renewable sources of electricity, a growing number of communities in rural Alaska are installing windmills and solar panels. These communities will still rely on their diesel generators for most of their electricity needs when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

For other communities, the needs are more focused on creating a market for sustainable sources of power generation, primarily wind and solar.  Again, microgrid technologies are one technology avenue. Recently, the New Jersey Board of Public Utility Commissioners provided grants to town centers to install these technologies. Diesel technology can also be useful in providing power to these microgrid applications when the sun does not shine, the wind does not blow and battery power has been depleted.

For other regions, the electricity generation needs are focused on providing grid resiliency and energy assurance. The electricity distribution system is old and some communities experience power outages due to aging infrastructure. Diesel generators have been the technology of choice providing emergency backup power often within seconds of a power failure. For this reason, diesel generators are frequently found in hospitals, critical care facilities, banks and even large buildings to provide mission critical power.  

A population of diesel generators capable of providing emergency prime power is a critical asset to support grid resiliency efforts. Some states are considering inventorying the population of “behind the grid” sources of power, including diesel generators, to be called on in the event of a major disruption. Other states are also looking to diesel generators to support energy assurance efforts. After Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts provided grants and tax incentives for fuel retailers to either install an emergency generator or the necessary electrical switchgear to accept a mobile generator. Once again, diesel technology is the technology of choice in these applications to keep motorists on evacuation routes and allow first responders to refuel equipment.

While policymakers in varying states and regions may have different visions for the future of the power generation and distribution system and the needs of their communities, diesel technology is an important partner in helping to realize these different outcomes. From grid resiliency and energy assurance to sustainable microgrid technology, diesel technology will help provide power to remote communities and larger urban areas.

 



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Key Contact

Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy
efinkin@dieselforum.org
301-668-7230

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