Home / Blog / Engineering : How Natural Gas is Fueling Distributed Power Generation Systems

In past articles we have discussed the advantages of distributed power generation (DG) systems, how they are beneficial to the environment, and what types of companies can most benefit from them. In today’s article we will turn our attention to the primary fuel source for distributed power generation systems: natural gas. There are several important reasons why natural gas is the ideal fuel source and why it is powering the DG revolution including the following.

Natural Gas Is Abundant and Affordable

One of the primary reasons that natural gas is such a great fuel source for distributed power generation systems is that it is readily available and more affordable than ever. This is in large part due to advancing drilling technologies which have allowed new sources of natural gas to be tapped while simultaneously dramatically increasing the amount of natural gas that can be recovered from a well-site. Currently the US is in the middle of a major natural gas renaissance with new natural gas plays having been recently discovered and developed.

The abundance of natural gas has lead to a natural decrease in price as supply increases. That has made it less expensive to run natural gas powered systems and has lead to a renewed focus in developing systems that run on natural gas. Distributed power generation systems are one of these major technologies and have benefited greatly from the natural gas boom.

Distributed Generation from Natural Gas Is Reliable

Another major advantage of using distributed generation systems that are powered by natural gas is the reliability of natural gas. A major drawback of traditional power grid systems is that they rely mostly on above ground power lines that can easily be knocked out by bad weather, accidents, and other unexpected incidents. By contrast natural gas is primarily shipped via underground pipelines that are much less subject to interruptions.

This has made distributed generation systems that rely on natural gas as a fuel source a much more attractive option for companies that need constant, uninterrupted power. Some companies are using distributed generation systems primarily as backup systems, while others have seen the viability and benefits of converting them into the primary power source for the facility.

Different Natural Gas Powered Distributed Generation Technologies Exist

Distributed generation is an umbrella term that refers to multiple different technologies for generating power on-site where it will be used. Most of these different technologies utilize natural gas as their fuel source. They include:

  • Industrial Natural Gas Fired Turbines – These turbines are powered by natural gas and work very similarly to the way large-scale turbines function at power plants.
  • Microturbines – Microturbines are even smaller versions of industrial gas turbines. They may be as small as a refrigerator, making them compact enough to fit in almost any setting. They produce less electricity than their larger counterparts, but still easily enough for smaller, lower-demand settings.
  • Natural Gas-Fired Reciprocating Engines – Natural gas-fired reciprocating engines, also known as combustion engines, use natural gas to create mechanical energy which then rotates a piston and generate electricity.
  • Fuel Cells – Natural gas fuel cells are similar to large, rechargeable batteries and are able to provide highly reliable power on demand at local sites.

In addition to the various distributed generation technologies, these different technologies are also able to utilize a variety of different natural gas-based fuels. Some systems may utilize synthetic natural gas or liquefied natural gas, which are much easier to transport and burn very cleanly compared to traditional fossil fuels.

Industrial Engineers Optimize Natural Gas Distributed Generation

As the technologies of distributed power generation advance, the role of industrial process engineers becomes more and more important. That is because while these technologies are extremely useful, they may be complicated to implement. Likewise different DG technologies and natural gas fuel sources are better suited to different companies and applications. An experienced process engineer will be able to evaluate the system and match the best DG technology to the company. Polaris is extremely excited about the DG revolution and we have already completed work for a global manufacturing company, helping them cut energy costs and increase reliability. We are looking forward to helping other clients discover the advantages of natural gas powered DG systems.

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