Distributed generation, defined as generation at or near the end user site, is poised to become a key element in Virginia's - and the nation's - energy future. However, how large a piece and exactly what that future will look like can best be described as a "work in progress".
What is known for sure is that Virginia's future energy needs are undergoing significant change, with new dynamics. The essential elements of this change include large localized electrical power needs; significantly increased power stability, availability and reliability; increased square foot wattage of facilities; and the growth of dedicated power systems.
Nationwide, the promise of distributed energy resources has yet to be fully realized due to a combination of technical, regulatory and business practice barriers, compounded by uncertainties associated with nationwide deregulation. A recent DOE study "Making Connections: Case Studies of Interconnection Barriers and their Impact on Distributed Power Projects" outlines many of these barriers, some of which have been shown to block "viable projects with potential benefits to both the customer and the utility system."
In fact, Virginia offers a case in point, as well as a good testing ground, for many of the issue cited by DOE. In May 2002, the ARI CIMAP program conducted a workshop addressing policy options for distributed resources in Virginia that reinforced and expanded on many of the DOE findings. The technical presentations and findings from the workshop are presented in detail at the following website: www.cimap.vt.edu/workshop/index.htm.
Along with policy and regulatory issues, knowledge of the economics of DG technologies is fundamental to assessing their market potential. A recent study by Arthur D. Little noted that "DG's economic attractiveness for customers and utilities and its ability to provide for capacity in the near term is leading regulators in several states to address it . . . An understanding of the economics of DG is essential for policymakers to address these concerns and to arrive at sound decisions regarding the future of DG."
In order to increase that understanding, the CIMAP staff has developed summaries of the principal technologies employed in distributed energy systems. These include: solar photovoltaic; fuel cells; wind power; microturbines; reciprocating engines; and turbine.