Distributed generation is growing

Monday, November 3, 2014

Customer-sited generation is growing in the U.S.  A look at some of the distributed generation projects that came online in September 2014 shows that universities and institutions are developing projects powered by natural gas, solar photovoltaics, and oil, thanks to policies such as remote net metering and support for microgrid development.

At the University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Cogeneration Associates has brought online a new 4.4 megawatt natural gas-fired cogeneration plant. The power generated is used on-site at the UC Santa Cruz campus.   Meanwhile the new unit will generate more than twice as much useful heat as the existing cogeneration unit, with a capacity of 1,391 tons (16,693 kBtu/h) of heating.

At the University of California at Riverside, Solar Star California XXIX LLC’s 3 megawatt UC Riverside Solar project is now online.  All of the power generated is used on-site at the UC Riverside campus, with the project's peak load representing about 30% of the campus's base load.  The University partnered with SunPower Corporation to install the 10.92-acre solar farm on campus open space.

Farther east, Cornell University’s 2 MW Snyder Road Solar Farm project came online. The power generated is used on-site at the Cornell University campus.  Cornell’s first solar photovoltaic project includes a 2MW tilt rack-mounted array on eleven acres of Cornell property in the Town of Lansing.  The Snyder Road Solar Farm is expected to produce 2.5 million kilowatt-hours annually, covering about 1 percent of Cornell’s total electricity use, and is expected to reduce the university’s annual greenhouse emissions by 625 metric tons per year.

Santa Fe Community College’s 1.5 MW Santa Fe Community College Solar project in Santa Fe County, New Mexico is online. The project is sited on 5.4 acres on campus, and consists of 4,620 SunPower 327-Watt photovoltaic modules mounted on fixed racking.  The power generated is used on-site at the Santa Fe Community College campus, generating approximately 43% of the college’s electricity demands, and saving the college more than $200,000 annually.  

Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative’s 10 MW oil-fired Matlack Road Microgrid project in New London County, CT is online.  CMEEC supplies power and related electric services to municipal utilities and other wholesale customers that, in turn, provide electricity to roughly 70,000 residential, commercial/industrial and small business customers across the state.  The $9 million Matlack Road Microgrid project serves as emergency backup power for the Backus Hospital campus and adjacent critical facilities including schools, emergency shelters, fire station, supermarket / pharmacy, public water supply, gas station and a shopping center in the event of a sustained power outage.

Businesses and institutions choose distributed generation for a variety of reasons, but most hope for reduced costs and improved reliability compared to traditional utility service.  Will distributed generation continue to grow in the U.S.?  How will utilities -- and policymakers -- adapt as customers continue to adopt consumer-sited generation?

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