U.S. Government Establishes Centre for Distributed Generation

The U.S. Department of Energy has created a new research centre to promote distributed power.

GOLDEN, Colorado – The Distributed Energy Resources Center will be based DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado. It will conduct research and provide information to develop additional power supplies from relatively small, decentralized generating units that ideally are operated near the sites they serve. The concept of distributed power involves a transition away from large conventional power plants, in favour of a network of dispersed, small-scale generation facilities. The approach is being accelerated to enhance the electricity generation capacity in the United States and reduce the nation’s power shortage. Technologies that are well suited for the emerging distributed power market include small natural gas turbines, as well as renewable energy sources such as the sun, wind and biomass. “Coming up with ways to get these various planned generating units to connect up safely, reliably and economically onto the existing electric power grid will be a formidable undertaking,” says NREL’s Stan Bull. “When you add the challenges presented by the pressure for rapid deployment of state-of-the-art generation technologies, the need for the Distributed Energy Resources Center becomes readily apparent.” A national search has been launched for a director for the center, which will have a budget of $10 million for this year. The center will be organized around three units: Resource & Environmental Evaluation, Distributed Power Systems Integration, and Hydrogen & Natural Gas Systems. Resource & Environmental Evaluation will develop methods for analyzing environmental impacts and site requirements for locating distributed power systems, including mapping pertinent regions for their sun, wind or biomass production potential, as well as for wildlife and other environmental considerations. The Distributed Power Systems Integration group will use a new facility to test methods and equipment for interconnecting distributed power systems. A primary role of the testing facility will be to develop universal standards to assure the performance and safety of distributed power equipment, which is critical to overcome the differences among generation technologies and how they produce power. The data will be used by standards-writing bodies to develop consensus test standards and by independent organizations to formally certify distributed power equipment. Hydrogen & Natural Gas Systems will combine NREL’s existing research into fuel cells and microturbines. DOE predicts that much of the growth in electrical generation will come from advanced microturbines that are powered by natural gas, and many experts believe fuel cells that produce electricity from hydrogen have unlimited potential in the years ahead. NREL will sponsor a conference later this month in Washington, at which key issues for distributed power will be examined. The meeting will identify priorities for future work, including the development of interconnection standards for distributed power. NREL is a national laboratory managed by Midwest Research Institute, Battelle and Bechtel. The lab conducts research into solar photovoltaics, wind energy, biomass, energy-efficient buildings, advanced vehicle design and hydrogen fuel cells.

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