Cost-effective benefits of paralleling and synchronizing multiple generators.

By: Darren Tasker, vice president of industrial sales, Volvo Penta of the Americas

To choose a generator solution without weighing the parts that make up the whole could be tempting for companies when it comes to their microgrid applications. However, considering the mission-critical environments that microgrids typically operate in, it’s extra important to evaluate the engines that ultimately power these systems.  

Having a dependable power source is fundamental to ensuring a microgrid’s continuity and uninterrupted operation. A strategic analysis of these systems can help to improve operational efficiencies, enhance reliability and lower the overall lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

Steps to make the decision

Companies should do their due diligence when assessing generator solutions – ensuring engine components are coming from a reliable, reputable provider. Alignment of power requirements is also a must. To achieve strong service support, organizations should examine their solution’s power density and load balance capabilities to ensure objectives such as fuel efficiency and ease of maintenance. Each of these factors can to contribute to a favorable TCO for the operators.

Emissions output is another important element to weigh, particularly as businesses look to increase efficiency and improve their environmental impact amidst an evolving industry landscape. Companies may decide it best to partner with a provider that can offer low emission levels to meet growing regulatory and societal demands for more environmentally friendly operations and a reduced carbon footprint.

Finally, packaging and installation are essential components since microgrid operators need to have optimal use of their space. Some organizations may find it surprising to learn that positioning multiple generators in a single microgrid application can help improve efficiency cost-effectively and provide benefits in other areas mentioned above.

Solving the paralleling puzzle

One might naturally believe that the cost of deploying several generators in a microgrid would be significantly higher than the price of just one, but that is not always the case. Pioneered by companies like PowerSecure, an innovative energy solutions provider, the strategy of paralleling and synchronizing multiple generators has proven capable of lowering TCO and increasing efficiency in microgrid applications.

In addition to being easy to execute, joining multiple generators offers the capability to synchronize and load share for better efficiency and redundancy from an electrical perspective. If one engine fails, the others keep working. It’s also possible to stack engines when space is at a premium. For example, generators can be installed in shipping containers designed to be stacked to help reduce footprint.

Linking multiple generators also allows users to turn on one or two generators to produce needed energy and save money. For example, a system may only need 2 megawatts (MW) of power, but the microgrid uses a 3.5-megawatt generator – leaving 1.5 MW of potentially wasted energy. Equipping the microgrid with three smaller 1-MW generators allows users to turn on two and shut off the third. Plus, running engines with at least a 60% load is best from an emissions, efficiency and longevity perspective.

Additionally, deploying multiple, smaller generators in a microgrid can lower maintenance needs and costs. Smaller generators take less time and cost to support than larger generators. One study compared the maintenance needs of one larger competitive generator against five smaller ones and found that the time to drain the oil and the cost to change filters on the larger unit far exceeded routine maintenance for all five smaller units.

Multiple generators can meet high power requirements and adjust for lower demand. Depending on load, a microgrid designed to deliver 40 MW can run with five generators, two, or even one. The solution is efficient, flexible and lowers emissions. When a microgrid uses Tier 4 Final engines, like those from Volvo Penta, the system operates efficiently and emits less CO, NoX and PM, reducing its carbon footprint as well.

To tie it together

Organizations need to be careful when selecting generators and building their microgrid strategy. Microgrids often operate in demanding environments where downtime isn’t an option. Having the proper generators deployed with a dependable engine solution can help to avoid potential complications. And with the right approach, companies will also be able to maximize operational efficiency while lowering TCO.

Darren Tasker, vice president of industrial sales at Volvo Penta, oversees the company’s development in power generation and off-road versatile equipment segments within North and Central America and the Caribbean. He joined the company in 1996 as area account manager and internal sales engineer and has served as UK industrial sales manager, off-highway project director for Europe; and director of industrial business for the Americas.

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