Brain-racking in the world of distributed generation

Jacob Klimstra à‚  Dr Jacob Klimstra
Managing Editor

As a regular reader of this magazine, you probably expect the editor’s letter to contain positive information on the benefits of local power generation, and of cogeneration as the preferred technology. Next to that, it would be nice if growing markets for such technologies and even new opportunities were announced.

There is, of course, good news. Some major power companies now see that the future is for integrated energy supply solutions. In countries with a high percentage of renewable electricity, the need for large centralised power plants is rapidly decreasing. Major European cities have interesting plans for an optimum energy supply for their citizens, in which local generation plays an important role.

However, for the past two months I have been heavily involved in meetings concerning fuel quality definition and the legal limits for exhaust gas emissions. The majority of the participants in these meetings consisted of professional committee delegates. I have to admit that, secretly, I started to call them profcoms. Profcoms are familiar with complex bureaucratic language and are adamant about the mandates given to them by their principals. They can spend day after day in meetings and stay happy even when the process is dragging on and on.

For an engineer, such unproductive meetings are a real headache. Engineers are used to putting the facts together and finding solutions to challenges. Physics and mathematics underpin the facts, helping to avoid lengthy discussions based purely on opinion. Nevertheless, engineers are also often sent to profcom meetings. Their bosses expect that sound reasoning based on facts can convince the participants so that optimum solutions are found and fair legislation is obtained. In some cases this really helps. However, problems arise if the profcoms in the meetings lack the background to understand what the engineers mean. With glazed eyes they watch an engineer talking, waiting politely until his or her contribution is over. This happens more and more since universities increasingly produce large numbers of professional bureaucrats. The chairman of the Royal Academy of Science in the Netherlands recently said that, currently, the results of the most important decision processes are the opposite of what a specialist would expect.

Let me just mention a few examples. For some special applications of local generation, a typical type of prime mover such as a dual-fuel engine is required to warrant reliable operation under difficult circumstances, such as natural gas supply interruptions. The impact of such machines on a local and national emission level is so low that it cannot even be expressed in percentages. Yet it appears very difficult to make legal exceptions to compliance with the general emissions legislation for such installations, notwithstanding their crucial role for society. Official procedures hamper the possibility of creating a reasonable solution.

Another example is the discussion about gas quality. Gas suppliers want to be allowed to put almost any type of gas into the pipelines without taking into account issues arising from poorer performance and higher emissions in gas applications. Especially sudden changes in gas quality can cause knocking in engines or complete misfiring in turbines, resulting in immediate trips. Studies have shown that the costs of creating a good gas quality range are minor compared with the negative effects of a wide gas composition range for all gas customers. Yet the profcoms of the gas suppliers refuse to accept that the quality of a product should be determined by the customers, and by the customers only.

Notwithstanding my lamentations, there are reasons to stay very optimistic about the future for on-site generation and cogeneration. Their positive contribution to an efficient and reliable power supply is utterly clear.

PS: Visit to see regular news updates, the current issue of the magazine in full, and an archive of articles from previous issues. It’s the same website address to sign-up for our fortnightly e-newsletter too.

No posts to display