Back to top Jump to featured resources
Article filed under Energy, Energy Self-Reliant States

Eight Reasons Distributed Power Generation Is Superior To Central Power Station Expansion

| Written by John Farrell | No Comments | Updated on Dec 2, 2010 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at https://ilsr.org/eight-reasons-distributed-power-generation-superior-central-power-station-expansion/

Key benefits of distributed power generation (DP).

  1. Proven technologies for DP are widely scalable. Obvious example: a wind farm can be incrementally built in multiples of approximately 1.4 MW.
  2. Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean “cheaper” for DP. Customers can match the DP capacities to precisely known needs and not have to over-buy equipment. (see Figure 1 in What Is Distributed Power Generation? for examples of scale). Quite the opposite for big utility-scale thermal generation plants , which have to design to support all projected growth and pay up front for capital equipment needed for future growth.
  3. Copper is expensive and dirty to make and string overhead. The mining, benefaction, and smelting of copper ore typically have severe environmental impacts and are very energy intensive – these days the impacts of copper production are mostly felt in developing nations – and anything done to minimize the need to build new transmission corridors or to expand distribution networks helps.
  4. Expansion of transmission corridors is necessarily going to screw up a great deal of land in parks and national and state forests. Eminent domain will be used to take private homes farms and ranches and people are going to be mad as hell about it. DP can help minimize this.
  5. All power generation investment poses financial risk. Investment in facilities that produce thousands of mega-watts each, however, can leave much money on the table for a very long time. (Subsidies for big nuclear or for “clean coal” put the burden of financial risk on taxpayers who weren’t even alive when the decision was made to invest!) DP, especially small scale projects, allows for more of a pay-as-you-go investment approach.
  6. Combustion-based DP technology – doesn’t matter if it’s a coal fired, gas fired, or biomass fired – is of a scale and environmental character that “waste heat” can be cost-effectively put to use in district heating schemes, or for industrial HVAC or processing, or for aquaculture – to cite but a few examples. Putting the waste heat from power generators to use can raise the total fuel efficiency of a thermal DP technology by 30% or more. (Conversely, the central distribution generation units pull in millions of gallons per day of surface waters needed for condensing and cooling. This can simply overwhelm fish and aquatic life in all but the largest bodies of water, while DP units can use storm water runoff to satisfy some of the cooling needs.)
  7. A municipal Combined Heat and Power system (CHP) system – a traditional and very common form of DP in Europe and North America – can be owned and operated by a community; or, it can be operated by a contract service supplier; or, it can be owned and operated by private investors. DP is, in theory, ideology blind.(Conversely, most central generation facilities are outside of municipal areas and only are amenable to ownership by entities capable of taking huge, long-term financial risk.)
  8. Say you own a business that is energy intensive. Got rooms full of servers, or factories that depend on steady lighting and pumping or keep workers and the surrounding community safe? Mission-critical operations can be operated even if the grid goes down from ices storms, floods, or whatever other mayhem you can imagine – if you invest in DP.

[emphasis added]

Tags: / / / / /

About John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power. More

Contact John   |   View all articles by John Farrell