Coal, Renewables

DG Update

Issue 6 and Volume 104.

Power Conditioner Market Restrained

The power conditioner market in the United States is experiencing growth limitations due to increased demand for alternative solutions, according to a recent Frost & Sullivan report. The market is comprised of a variety of applications including uninterruptible power supplies (USP), DC power systems, transient voltage surge suppressors, and power conditioners including voltage regulators and isolation transformers.

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The need for power quality protection equipment (PQPE) has grown tremendously over the past few years due to increased reliance on sensitive microprocessor-based applications. These applications are more susceptible to common power problems such as sags, surges, brownouts, line noise, high voltage spikes, frequency variation and harmonic distortion. Total revenue for this market in 1999 was $4.44 billion and it is expected to increase to $6.92 billion by 2003, as shown in the accompanying table.

Stand-alone power conditioners have not been able to sustain the same growth as the overall market. According to the Frost & Sullivan study, the market for power conditioners generated $454.5 million for 523,100 unit shipments in 1999. The power conditioner market will continue to grow, but at declining growth rates throughout the forecast period. The decline is influenced by new product developments, substitution by other PQPE and changes in customer preference.

Mergers and acquisitions have become more common as the market matured, so the industry has more total solution providers and fewer niche players. Stand-alone power conditioners have reached maturity in the product life cycle and are sold as commodity items. Most industry players are focusing on more profitable PQPE such as UPSs and transient voltage surge suppressors with power conditioning features.

1M Homeowners Installing Backup Power Annually

One million homeowners a year are purchasing backup power systems for their homes, according to figures compiled by Briggs & Stratton. In recent years, Y2K fears, weather patterns such as El Niño and La Niña and their ensuing ice storms, tornadoes, blizzards, hurricanes and heat waves are creating nervous customers looking to ensure their reliability.

Last summer’s power outages prompted the DOE to commission a Power Outage Study Team to evaluate electric reliability. The team’s interim report was released earlier this year, predicting that sections of the country will continue to experience serious outages until operations, regulations and technology can catch up with demand.

There are a multitude of issues that can drive homeowners to backup power systems, including loss of heat, flooded basements when sump pumps lose power, freezer and refrigerator contents spoiling, family members on life-sustaining home medical equipment, and telecommuters who need electronic equipment for their employment.

“I think it is a trend. People want to be protected, particularly those people who are working at home, where going without power for 30 to 36 hours would be a real problem,” says Walt Steoppelwerth, known as the “Remodeling Guru.” “A lot of builders are now offering entire electrical packages to support all the needs in a home.”

Using a permanent transfer system makes a portable generator safer and more convenient for homeowners. The most critical circuits are connected to the generator via the transfer system. Then, if the power goes out, those circuits can be turned on at the transfer switch.

Backup power systems, including a transfer switch and either a 5,000 W or 7,500 W generator and emergency power transfer system, can be purchased for $1,000 to $1,500. They are available at many home improvement, hardware or outdoor power equipment retailers.

Madison Offers Backup Program

Madison Gas & Electric Co. (MGE) explored a variety of options for meeting peak capacity needs and for providing affordable backup service to customers with higher-than-average needs for service reliability before creating its own backup generation service (BGS) for customers with 75 kW or more demand by offering Cummins Onan PowerCommand generators.

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MGE is an investor-owned public utility providing electric service to 123,000 customers in Dane County, Wis. The utility began its BGS program in the spring of 1998. Previously, MGE offered interruptible rates and a financing program for customers to use to purchase their own generators. But MGE found customers didn’t want to have the up-front costs of generator ownership nor the responsibility for maintenance and service.

These factors coupled with concerns about summer peak demand prompted the utility to start the BGS program.

The utility initially ordered 10 MW of capacity with hope of finding enough customers to use the generators in the summer. Within six months of the program’s kickoff, MGE had signed a dozen customers, primarily through word-of-mouth advertising. Customers were contracted for three to 10 years at $1.50/kW per month for diesel and $3.50/kW per month for natural gas.

The distributed generation runs in parallel with the utility. Each generator is located at the customer’s business and has a radio link to the MGE dispatch office, allowing technicians at the utility to retrieve status information when a unit is running. In the event of a distribution outage, the generators switch on automatically with no more than 30 seconds of outage at the customer’s business. Once grid power is restored, the generators synchronize with the utility’s system and shut down without disrupting service.

“One MGE customer in the telecommunications industry has two 1,250 kW generators installed as backup because an outage can cost up to $1 million an hour,” said Don Peterson, MGE senior director, Energy Products and Services. He said the utility has been surprised to see interest in the BGS plan from customers in service-related industries where there is normally not a higher-than-average need for reliability-including a landscaping business and a plumbing supply company.

Virginia Industrial Park Boasts 42 kW Solar Array

PowerLight Corp. recently completed installation of the largest roof-integrated, thin-film solar electric system in North America. The project is sited in an eco-industrial park at the Port of Cape Charles,Va. The installation consists of 10,000 square feet of PowerGuard roofing tiles. “PowerGuard tiles are a revolutionary concept in building architecture,” said Dan Shugar, PowerLight executive vice president. “In addition to generating solar electricity, the tiles insulate the building, reducing the cost of heating and air-conditioning, while also protecting and extending the life of the roof. They’re an integral part of the rooftop, joined by a tongue-and-groove design that requires no roof penetration or adhesives, thus eliminating leakage and related maintenance.”

The system uses a newly commercialized thin-film solar electric module called the Millennia, from BP Solarex.

The 42 kW solar array is mounted on a building in the Cape Charles Sustainable Technology Industrial Park, a public-private initiative funded in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the DOE and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Funding for the PowerLight system was provided in part by the Virginia Alliance for Solar Electricity and the Utility PhotoVoltaic Group’s TEAM-UP program.