From: Enchanted Rock Chief Commercial Officer
Thank you for lifting the lid on the unhealthy proliferation of diesel backup generators in your Dec. 9, 2021 editorial: JUICE: No Guarantees New Diesel Backup Will Sit Mostly Unused. While the systems keep power flowing during weather-related outages, they produce harmful local air emissions, run many more hours than in the past, and are vulnerable to fuel supply risks.
What many do not know is that superior alternatives exist at the same or lower costs. Dual-purpose microgrid systems, which provide local power during an outage and support the broader grid in times of short supply, are supported by clean backup generators using natural gas or renewable fuels, which outperform diesel generators across the board. This proven technology, producing just 1% of the local emissions and toxic air pollution, is already replacing diesel in many industrial and commercial applications outside of California.
However, without targeted policy action by California regulatory authorities like Air Districts and local governments, diesel will remain the default backup fuel and continue having harmful effects on public health and the environment, particularly in disadvantaged communities. Needed policy actions to support cleaner options include incentives for replacing legacy diesel systems, such as expedited permitting or grants, reclassification of best available control technology to reflect technical and commercial maturity of cleaner options, and explicit support for the use of renewable natural gas for power generation.
Enchanted Rock currently operates over 240 dual-purpose microgrids totaling over 500 MW of capacity across multiple states to provide clean, affordable power resiliency for critical infrastructure providers and businesses. Our microgrids are installed at water facilities, hospitals, large grocery store chains and data centers.
During last year’s winter storm in Texas, Enchanted Rock’s fleet covered over 5,000 outage hours at 143 sites at a 97% reliability rate, even while large diesel generators were failing due to refueling challenges and poor maintenance. The underground gas pipelines supplied uninterrupted fuel even as the roads were impassable to transport diesel. In a few instances, the extreme cold affected our equipment, but upgrades since the storm will eliminate that risk in the future.
When customers are on grid power, our microgrids also provide valuable grid reliability services and utility demand response. Revenues to the backup system owners from these grid services lower the cost compared to diesel solutions. In California, it takes emergency declarations to allow diesel to operate in this manner whereas clean microgrids generate a revenue stream every month, whether they run or not.
In short, the microgrid option is cleaner, lower cost, and more reliable than diesel.
To answer your parting question: “Is the high price we are paying for assumed grid reliability worth it?”— No, it is not.
Given the availability of commercially proven alternatives, state and local policymakers need to take action to incentivize conversion away from diesel backup generation to modern solutions for cleaner air and a more reliable grid.
Now is the time to act – we have kicked the diesel can down the road for too long.