The number of facilities choosing to generate their own electricity using generators or “gensets” is growing. Companies are recognizing that the physical and business impacts of even one severe storm can undo all the planning a business does and even wipe out or severely hurt the business. In addition, with the acceptance of climate change as real the chances of a severe storm impacting a facility will rise in the future. A facility having its own secure source of electricity independent of the grid and its wires and vulnerable infrastructure can better ensure that basic functions can be maintained in a storm, saving personnel and processes and having electricity to maintain operations during such events. As a result, the genset market has been growing.
Part of this growth is due to another phenomenon, some utilities provide financial incentives for facilities to procure and operate gensets to relieve them as they are unsure of reliable power and don’t want to hurt key users in their area. In addition, several such programs require the genset operator to go off the utility’s grid and operate the genset for distinct periods during peak demand periods (hot weather) to relieve pressure on the grid. These programs, often called “Demand Response” or DR, can be lucrative for facilities. The utility pays most of the capital cost of the genset, the facility fully owns it, and they get paid a fee each time a DR event occurs and a genset is used.
One complication of such programs, however, is environmental. The federal Clean Air Act, followed by nearly all states, specifically exempts from permitting and meeting emission standards gensets that are used only in emergencies (this includes the necessary regular exercising of a unit). However, once a facility uses a genset in a DR program, this exemption goes away. Therefore, facilities entertaining joining a DR program must set aside budget and effort to obtain the proper air permit (or modify its existing one) and comply with any applicable emission standard. Nitrogen oxide (NOx) is the most common pollutant that is regulated. If the NOx emissions of your genset exceeds the regulatory standard, it may be necessary to retrofit the unit with Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) or equivalent technology. The cost of such a retrofit can approach 6 figures. The USEPA designates models as meeting certain “tiered” standards. Tier 4 gensets are the most advanced and will likely currently meet all applicable emission regulations. Tier 3 gensets probably meet most of them. Tier 2 units probably do not meet many of them, again, if applicable. So if you are procuring a new genset, look to invest in a Tier 4 which should meet all applicable NOx emission standards. Particulate matter (PM) is sometimes regulated, too. A sure way to meet any PM standard is to combust natural gas, not to mention it is currently cheaper than oil. Natural gas-fired gensets are particularly selling well these days.
Finally, another variation of the genset that many facilities are considering is combined heat and power or CHP, where both steam and electricity are produced by the unit. The improvement in efficiency can save significant fuel costs. It is important for an experienced engineer to evaluate whether your demand for both steam and electricity and when the demand occurs will make CHP a good investment.
CCES can help your firm determine whether a genset or a CHP can be beneficial for you, as well as manage its procurement, installation, testing, and use to maximize the financial benefits. We can determine likely financial costs and savings. We can perform the needed environmental permitting and determine whether it meets existing applicable emission limits. Contact us today at karell@CCESworld.com or at 914-584-6720.