Location: 123 Main Street, White Plains, New York
Host: New York Power Authority
Rating: 30 kilowatts
Installation Date: November 2001
Fuel: Natural Gas
Microturbines Hold Macro Promise
They can generate electricity right where it's needed, at hospitals or shopping malls, schools or scientific research labs, including locations far from the transmission grid and where the loss of power could be catastrophic.
They're microturbines. The Power Authority is rigorously testing a 30-kilowatt (kW) unit at its White Plains headquarters to ensure that its potential for lower costs, high efficiency, quick startups, dependability, protection from power interruptions and clean operation, all in just 10 square feet of space, can be realized for a multitude of potential markets.
Because of their diminutive size—about as big as a modern refrigerator—they've earned the "micro" label. But such units hold major promise: They can provide up to 100 kW of electricity each, and can be configured in sets to increase output and run on natural gas, propane or kerosene—even on methane-based waste gases from landfills, oil fields and wastewater treatment plants. Where power is expensive, microturbines can step in to meet demand for less than half the cost of conventional generation sources.
They do this through continuous combustion, whereby a turbine shaft, rotating at up to 100,000 revolutions per minute, drives a compact generator. Since microturbines generate power right at the point of use, the normally wasted heat generated can be put to good use, driving overall efficiency up toward 70 percent. On top of that, they are relatively quiet, with few moving parts, and promise little maintenance.
While they'll never replace large power plants, they can replace or supplement such power in peak or emergency periods—key benefits at a time of growing energy demand and opposition to new plant and transmission line construction.
NYPA, a national leader in demonstrating alternative power sources, is operating several additional microturbines on behalf of customers in New York State and exploring additional applications.