LADWP: Distributed generation ‘ready for prime time’

Carlsbad, Calif., October 8, 2001 – Distributed generation is expected to play an increasingly important role in meeting the future energy needs of commercial and business customers in Los Angeles and elsewhere as load demand and reliability concerns increase.

David H. Wiggs, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, delivered that message Friday during a presentation exploring the emerging technology at the Credit Suisse First Boston Energy Technology Conference. “At the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, we understand the value distributed generation can deliver in easing demand on the public energy grid and in ensuring reliability for our customers who want additional peace of mind,” Wiggs said. “It’s an environmentally sound solution and embraces technology that is here and now.”

The demand for distributed generation is not significant today because LADWP has a stable, low-cost electric supply, along with the lowest electric rates in California. However, since the terrorist attacks, LADWP has received inquiries from customers asking what they can do to prevent power interruptions in the event of an unplanned disruption.

“We are encouraging customers to look into the benefits of producing at their offices and facilities,” he said.

LADWP has been a national leader in adding distributed generation – micro-turbines, fuel cells and solar photovoltaic systems – to its generating capacity. The small generators are located at or near customer businesses or manufacturing facilities and provide an uninterruptible or back-up power source.

Along with renewable resources and energy efficiency, distributed generation will account for 50 percent of LADWP’s load growth over the next 10 years. In 2001, solar photovoltaic sources will produce 1 megawatt and micro-turbines 2 megawatts – enough to power 3,000 homes.

By 2010, 70 megawatts of electricity – to power 70,000 homes – will come from distributed generation sources. “Distributed generation can provide numerous customer, utility and societal benefits,” Wiggs said. “The customer benefits from high quality and reliable power, as well as lower electric bills because waste heat can be used to drive the generator. The utility benefits because distributed generation will reduce the need to build more costly power plants. Society benefits because solar power produces no emissions and micro-turbines and fuel cells are dramatically cleaner than diesel generators.”

Notable projects

In August, LADWP installed the world’s largest biomass-powered micro-turbine facility at a Los Angeles landfill, where the micro-turbines are being driven by naturally occurring methane gas to produce 1.5 megawatts of electricity. This non-polluting project will remove the equivalent of 500 cars from Los Angeles roadways.

It consists of 50 micro-turbines that produce 30 kilowatts each.

The Department also installed a 250 kilowatt-molten carbonate fuel cell and three micro-turbines, totaling 120 kilowatts, at its headquarters building in downtown Los Angeles.

At two other LADWP facilities, the Department has installed seven micro-turbines (255 kilowatts) and a 200 kilowatt-phosphoric acid fuel cell at of its facilities.

“LADWP is doing what it can to practice what it preaches,” Wiggs said. “We are installing and testing new distributed generation technologies to obtain information on their reliability, availability and maintenance requirements.”

LADWP currently has one of the most aggressive photovoltaic incentive programs in the country, providing up to $6 per watt. Rates have been set to reduce electric bills and the Department offers a preliminary analysis of potential customer cost savings with installation of distributed generation sources.

LADWP’s solar program is moving ahead with its five-year plan to install solar panels at homes, businesses and City of Los Angeles buildings. LADWP provides financial incentives to help reduce the installation costs as well as assisting in the expansion of the solar panel manufacturing industry in Los Angeles.

“We plan on installing 100,000 solar roofs by 2010,” Wiggs said. “Solar power is the best source of energy we can tap into. First of all, the fuel costs are free and, second, it reduces the amount of energy we need to produce at our power plants during high-peak, daylight hours.”

Much of the funding comes from the state of California. LADWP uses its Public Benefits Program money and sets aside $15 million a year for solar projects and $5 million to $7 million annually to fund fuel cell and micro-turbine research. LADWP also seeks funding from outside sources, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, California Energy Commission, California Air Resources Board, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the Electric Power Research Institute and Southern California Gas Co. Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy notified LADWP that it would contribute $250,000 toward the first fuel cell power plant.

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