Distributed energy refers to power generated at or near the point of consumption and has the benefit of being highly efficient without requiring the enormous infrastructure and maintenance of centralized power transmission. Presently, it costs as much as $1m per mile to run transmission lines to a rural farm in Iowa and as much as $10m per mile in Chicago.
Distributed power generators include existing established fossil fuel technology, less mature fuel cell technologies, biomass and renewable sources such as wind and solar. Typically, distributed generators are small, producing less than 1MW and are used to meet on-site energy requirements and are connected to the grid at the distribution level whereas commercial power producers connect at the transmission level.
According to a 2003 Congressional Budget Office report electricity generating capacity will increase through 2025 by 450,000 megawatts with 11% of that capacity from non utility owned distributed generation. Of that 11% it is projected that 3% will be obtained from renewable sources.
The benefits of distributed generation can include improved grid reliability by reducing energy requirements during peak usage and further lowering of wholesale pricing by relieving demand on utilities. There are also barriers to distributed energy both technical and regulatory and extend beyond the scope of this post but these barriers can be overcome, particularly as the cost of distributed generation has come down.
Widespread adoption of renewable forms of distributed energy, solar and wind has been prohibited because of capital costs and reliability. In Coos County, wind is in constant supply but is not regarded as ‘quality’ wind given its gusty and blustery nature. Traditional open bladed fans do suffer in this environment and previous attempts at wind farms failed. Likewise, there is an opinion that fog and rain diminish the functionality of PV yet our solar signature exceeds successful installations all across Europe.
New wind turbine technologies can transform Coos County’s wild and errant wind into an effective power source and by utilizing the grid for backup and storage effectively become a distributed energy wind farm. PV or photovoltaic coupled with these new turbines could allow Coos County and other communities with wind and solar resources to enter the power generation business and protect the environment at the same time.