Navigant Research Blog

Californian and National Policies Could Shape Future Value Stacking for Distributed Natural Gas

— December 5, 2017

Distributed natural gas generation (DNGG) has significant potential for disruption in the electric sector thanks to improving generator technologies, cheap fuel, and the global trend toward decentralized systems in need of dispatchable power. Navigant Research has identified DNGG as a significant trend of the future, and various legislative and regulatory actions continue to affect this often overlooked but critical solution ecosystem. On the surface, some of these regulatory decisions appear as setbacks, and issues at the federal level remain unresolved. Yet, this key enabling technology for the Energy Cloud will continue to show growth due to underlying benefits dependent upon government subsidies. Some of the recent actions are discussed below.

California AB 36: This bill, which proposed to expand California’s fuel cell net energy metering (FC-NEM) program to include other efficient DNGG technologies, was vetoed by Governor Brown. The governor cited recent changes to the program and wanting to assess their effectiveness first. The goal of the bill was to make the FC-NEM program (with its 500 MW cap) technology agnostic and available to other technologies that meet certain emissions criteria. The decision keeps the larger cap exclusive to fuel cells. In a separate fuel cell development, new California projects have slowed in 2017 after new minimum biogas requirements were instituted in the Self-Generation Incentive Program.

California AB 1400: This bill, which prohibits recipients of microgrid funding from using those funds for diesel generators, was signed into law by Governor Brown in October. Though not exactly related to natural gas, this law continues a California lawmaking trend in aiming to limit carbon emissions—in this case as it relates to microgrids funded by the state’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program. DNGG is not currently affected by this new law. These developments take place during a time of surging microgrid activity in California, with highlights including an active $44.7 million grant funding opportunity from the California Energy Commission and an active microgrid research roadmap.

Federal Investment Tax Credit: This credit for fuel cells, microturbines, and combined heat and power was a long-standing tax credit that expired at the end of 2016. House Bill HR 1, a tax bill, includes an extension for this credit, which if passed would provide a boost to these predominantly natural gas-fueled technologies. Note that the bill does not include this provision as of this writing. According to Navigant Research estimates for fuel cells, the credit is worth about $0.02/kWh throughout the system lifetime, which can significantly affect the economics of such systems.

Such policy developments have the potential to for significant effects on this dynamic industry. As renewables and storage receive significant governmental support, the relative merits of distributed natural gas will continue to be debated and judged. Regardless of the level of direct support of technologies like fuel cells, generator sets, and microturbines, the fundamental drivers of DNGG point toward a bright future.


New Cummins and Tangent Joint Venture Enters the Heart of the Energy Cloud

— November 14, 2016

PipelineA joint venture has entered the Energy Cloud, pioneering new value propositions for stakeholders across the energy value chain. Dubbed edgeGEN, this offering allows energy retailers and commercial and industrial (C&I) facilities to capitalize on real-time economic opportunities on the grid.

edgeGEN consists of Cummins’ natural gas generator sets (gensets) equipped with Tangent Energy’s Tangent AMP distributed energy resource management system (DERMS). The system’s key focus is predicting (and reacting to) customer coincident peak demand, a rare occurrence that can nonetheless represent a significant portion of an electric bill. By focusing on these high-value instances, edgeGEN has the potential to provide high economic value to the grid with a small amount of fuel.

The business case for the product includes value propositions on both sides of the meter. Municipal utilities and energy retailers, the exclusive channel partners for the offering, save costs by incentivizing customers toward desired behavior like cutting demand during peak hours. C&I customers can be rewarded monetarily while in some cases also realizing the benefits of resilient power to ride through outages. Bringing it all together is a financing structure that typically requires no money down from the host facility.

Established Technology in a New Skin

Gensets remain the de facto backbone of many onsite generation systems for several reasons. They are dispatchable quickly any time of day, can have the cheapest levelized cost of energy of any distributed generation (DG) source, and can reliably deliver 1,000 times or more annual energy per square meter than solar PV. They account for 40% of the average microgrid generation capacity in Navigant Research’s Microgrid Deployment Trackermore than any other technology.

Though some argue that the dramatic cost declines in developing technologies like solar plus storage will lead to the displacement of gensets, we see this convergence as a key opportunity. As intermittent renewables grow, there will be increasing demand for fast-ramping gas generation, as noted in recent reports about California by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Additionally, according to a report funded by the German government, distributed natural gas generation must play a growing role in thermal energy storage. Both on- and off-grid, growing access to cheap natural gas is only accelerating this trend.

Offerings like edgeGEN have room to grow. Other DER and demand response can be integrated on the same platform, one that has flexibility to evolve alongside the coming growth in transactive energy. Municipal utilities and energy retailers, especially in areas with high capacity and transmission tags, should consider the value of incorporating smart gensets and complementary DER. Facility owners should consider the offering while also considering the true value of resilient power as a potential bonus. With growing renewables penetration, persistently cheap natural gas, and regulatory bodies recognizing the value of dispatchable DG, the opportunities in this space are promising.


As Coal Declines, Low-Emissions Engine Plants Spread

— December 22, 2014

In September, the world’s largest reciprocating engine power plant was completed in Jordan.  IPP3, as it’s called, has 38 Wärtsilä 50DF engines, with a total capacity of 573 MW in the extreme desert conditions of Jordan.    The plant uses tri-fuel engines that can run on natural gas, heavy fuel oil, and light fuel oil.  They can start and ramp up to full capacity in less than 10 minutes, and they can do this multiple times a day without any maintenance cost impact.

The modular nature of the plant also allows it to operate at peak efficiency (45%-50%) across its entire output range by shutting down individual engines as needed and leaving others at high load.  In addition, the plant will enable Jordan’s existing turbine plants to operate more efficiently, as they will be used for baseload while IPP3 fills in the gaps where there is fluctuation in demand.

Reliable, Flexible, and (Relatively) Clean

IPP3 is fitted with a nitrate (NOx) control system for reducing emissions and meeting strict environmental health and safety guidelines set by the International Finance Corporation.  The plant follows international requirements for sulfides and particulates as well, and it is expected to produce 35% fewer carbon emissions than an existing steam turbine plant would if both used heavy fuel oil.  IPP3 will also have a close to zero usage of water once gas is employed as fuel, minimizing its environmental footprint.

So what makes this plant important?  It’s important because before IPP3, Jordan’s utility professionals had never contemplated the installation of a reciprocating engine plant, preferring to generate baseload power through combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) facilities, which have peak efficiencies of 55% to 60%.  It’s also important because many utility professionals around the world, not just in Jordan, are looking for a solution that is reliable, offers fuel and operational flexibility, is quick-starting and efficient across a wide range of loads, and consumes less water and produces fewer emissions.

Reciprocal Benefits

And, as in Jordan, many other utility professionals are choosing reciprocating engines.  Wärtsilä alone has been installing an impressive number of large gensets recently.  For example, a 175 MW gas engine plant was completed by Wärtsilä in South Africa for Sasol, one of the country’s largest industrial companies, in December 2012.  The company is also in the process of building the 200 MW Pesanggaran Bali power plant, which will be the largest engine-based power plant in Indonesia when it is completed in 2015.

In the United States, Wärtsilä has been contracted to supply a 56 MW Smart Power Generation power plant in Oklahoma, and the company is expected to install a 50 MW plant in Hawaii on the island of Oahu, pending approval of the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.  There is also a 225 MW plant being proposed in Texas and, reportedly, another 225 MW plant already under construction in Oregon.  All of the plants in the United States will be used to balance wind and solar generation on the grid.  With cheap natural gas, emissions standards, and the grids around the world becoming increasingly unstable, it appears that reciprocating engines’ stock is on the rise.

For more detail on the future of reciprocating engines, please see Navigant Research’s report, Natural Gas Generator Sets.


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