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06/25/2015 | Generators for Municipalities: Standby Power, and More

With grid outages mounting and the chances of cyberattacks increasing, standby power systems are becoming more important than ever for municipalities. Already mandated in many areas for such mission-critical functions as water and sewer facilities, power has taken on a vital role for departments—from public works to information technology—that might not previously have considered themselves essential. The reality in today’s hazard-laden environment is that cities cannot afford to be without power for more than a few minutes (or less).

For municipal departments struggling with tight budgets, the burden of purchasing and maintaining backup power generators has historically been considerable. Furthermore, in urban areas, concerns about emissions from “dirty diesel” generators have been a factor. Today, however, both of these issues are being mitigated by new opportunities and technologies in power generation.

Capitalizing on Power

Using a standby generator regularly places no more strain on a generator than reserving it for emergency power, provided that the generator is run at an appropriate load and maintenance is kept up. Consequently, innovative city managers are exploring ways they can recapture some of the capital expenditure from their generators.

One example is to supply their own electricity during periods of peak demand. In a 2010 paper for the Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, three engineering and public policy experts explored this issue.

In the paper, the authors noted that electricity generation is 10 times more expensive, per kilowatt hour, during peak demand periods than in off-peak periods. This is largely due to congested transmission lines and reliance on electrical “peaking plants,” which are brought online only when electricity demand is high. Much of this expense is passed on to customers; a primary reason why commercial entities are engaging in “peak shaving.” Cities with sufficient power generation capacity can do the same thing.

Based on an average of 200 hours per year of peak demand, the authors reported, utilizing backup generators for on-site power generation during these periods could significantly reduce electrical billings. In some instances, a city might even be able to sell excess power back to the power company.

In relation to the emissions concerns that might arise, especially in urban areas, the authors detailed several mitigating opportunities. Specifically cited by the report were:

  • Equipping diesel generators with bi-fuel add-ons, which allow operators to burn up to 70% natural gas in the engine but retain use of diesel for startup and to meet life-safety regulations.
  • Retrofitting existing diesel generators with emission controls for PM2.5 (Particulate Matter up to 2.5 micrometers in size) and NOx (Nitrogen Oxides), allowing them to operate without severe air quality degradation and adverse human health effects. (With PM2.5 and NOx controls, the “social cost” of running diesel generators dropped from two dollars per kWh to 10 cents per kWh.)
  • Exploring the use of natural gas generators, which burn more cleanly than diesel.

Peak shaving is only one of many ways for municipalities to recapture some of their outlay for standby power generators. The point is that working with local utilities and other providers, cities can increase the ROI for emergency backup generators, enabling them to purchase more equipment and power a larger percentage of city functions. Then, when a power disruption occurs, the municipality will be better prepared to protect and service its citizenry, thanks to emergency power.

To learn more about standby power options and alternative uses, or to explore HIPOWER SYSTEMS line of standby generators, we invite you to call 913-495-5557 to speak with an expert technician. You may also find the standby power pages on our site helpful. While you are there, sign up for myHIPOWER to gain access to extended site benefits and more.



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