Backup plan: Diesel-fueled generators grow 22 percent in California since 2020

Image credit Corbin Electric

The state of California, which is trying to eliminate carbon emissions in its power sector but had to allow new gas-fired generation to make up for weather impacts on the grid this summer, is also seeing a proliferation of backup diesel-fueled generators, according to a new report.

Research by consulting group M.Cubed indicates that the generator population in the Golden State climbed by double-digit percentage points in the past year. Two air quality districts, the South Coast and Bay Area, collectively are home to more than 23,000 backup generators.

Combined those on-site gen-sets account for 12.2 GW of electricity capacity, close to 15 percent of California’s entire grid, according to the M.Cubed analysis. Of that total gen-set population, more than 20,000 are diesel-fueled.

The backup generator count rose 34 percent in the Bay Area Air Quality Management District alone in the past three years, according to M.Cubed.

Many businesses and mission critical services such as hospitals and military bases are bolstering their backup plans with microgrids which include solar and storage combinations. A large part of those microgrids also include a gen-set, fired by natural gas or diesel, to deploy when circumstances require it.

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State and local leaders know all this and are, of course, concerned deeply about the emissions impact. At the same time, the state’s energy commission allowed four gas-fired engine gen-sets to be brought in to provide resiliency to the grid in the midst of wildfires and lowered hydropower production due to drought conditions.

“We have long been concerned about the proliferation of diesel backup generators here in the Bay Area, as highlighted in this report,” said Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. “Emissions from these backup generators can harm local residents, regional air quality and the global climate. This is particularly true in communities already overburdened by air pollution and the Air District is actively pursuing regulations to curb this pollution.”

However, backup generators provide Californians with energy security as they deal with a myriad of weather and grid events. The state is seeking a goal of 100-percent clean energy power by 2045, but must deal with the challenges facing its journey to net-zero carbon emissions.

Four gas-fired flexible gen-sets approved to help California through a brutal summer are still online and available to support the state’s grid, according to the latest Department of Water Resources statement.

Two units each have been temporarily installed at two sites in Northern California: Greenleaf Unit 1, operated by Calpine in Yuba City, and the Roseville Energy Park, operated by Roseville Electric. Each unit can produce up to 30 MW of power, totaling 60 MW of power at each site. The units run on natural gas but can run on a blend of up to 75 percent hydrogen. 

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On-site power and microgrids will be a focus of content sessions at POWERGEN International happening Jan. 26-28 in Dallas, Texas. POWERGEN and DISTRIBUTECH Internationall will be co-located there. Registration is now open for both.

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