Executives of companies looking to increase the use of small electric generation units known as microturbines last week sought to promote some of the nascent technology’s benefits, including a minimal amount of maintenance and the ability to make use of heat-generated energy that would otherwise go to waste.

“For our microturbine, there’s only one moving part,” Kevin Duggan, manager of environmental and regulatory issues at Capstone Turbine Corp., told a press briefing at the American Gas Association’s Washington headquarters.

Capstone’s flagship product, the CapStone Microturbine power generation system, is about the size of a refrigerator and generates 30 kW of electricity. That of another major manufacturer, Honeywell Power System’s Parallon 75 microturbine, operates on natural gas, diesel and kerosene fuels, with each unit providing 75 kW of on-site power generation.

Duggan also pointed out that distributed generation makes heat available to customers that utilize microturbines, whereas the same heat thrown off by larger power plants is typically wasted. In small scale cogeneration applications, a microturbine’s exhaust heat can be used for, among other things, water and air heating, food processing and dehumidification.

Heidi Pursley, director of marketing at Honeywell Power Systems, also highlighted the fact that microturbines can come in handy during blackout situations. Not surprisingly, the California marketplace is proving to be a fairly receptive market for microturbine technology.

Capstone last month announced that the City of Los Angeles Board of Water and Power Commissioners unanimously approved a $4 million purchase of 141 microturbine power systems from Capstone California, a newly-formed subsidiary of Capstone. Duggan told NGI the company also has entered a deal with a wastewater treatment association in California. “That’s more of an understanding agreement, but we do know that our machines work very well on waste gases” from wastewater plants.

Meanwhile, a fleet of Honeywell’s 75kW microturbines have been helping the company’s Torrance, CA, facility deal with California’s energy crisis by providing on-site power generation.

Despite the technology’s promise, the speakers also acknowledged that certain barriers exist for microturbine technology, although they don’t appear to be insurmountable. In particular, both Duggan and Pursley cited interconnection issues with local power distribution systems to carry off excess power when it’s not being used on-site, or supplement the on-site power, as an area that is being grappled with by the industry.

How much of a problem it is “depends on the various locations. Some places are more difficult than other places,” Duggan told NGI. California, Texas and New York have statewide standards in place, “which makes it a little easier and I think in California we’re finding it is getting much easier.”

“But in some instances there are peculiar problems, unique problems that inhibit the interconnection issue,” Duggan continued. He hammered home the point that interconnection is a technical issue “and engineers come up with answers, so all of the technical barriers that could be put up have technical solutions. The reality is that our technology works grid-connected and stand-alone, so those issues can be resolved,” Duggan said.

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