WASHINGTON (December 18, 2023) – Balancing the need for reliable electric power and the desire for greater sustainability was the subject of a recent webinar hosted by the Engine Technology Forum (ETF). The panel of industry experts featured Greg Lamberg from San Leandro California-based Peterson Power Systems, Matt Leuck from Neste (Houston, TX), and Tammy Klein from Transport Energy Strategies (Marco Island, FL). A recording of the webinar is available for viewing here.
A theme of the session was the concerns about the reliability of the nation’s electrical grid, at a time when new and increasing demands are being placed on it for both heating and transportation. Recent reports from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) indicate that a large portion of the North American bulk power system is at risk of insufficient electricity supply during peak winter conditions. In addition, recent wildfires in California that damaged the grid and shut off power to entire communities were discussed.
In response to California wildfires and power outages, Lamberg described the critical service Peterson Power Systems delivered to the 27,000 residents in the community of Del Norte, California; installing backup power units to restore power in about five days. “What we do matters,” said Lamberg. “Consequences of losing power can be life or death and we are able to immediately mobilize resources and keep the lights on – in addition to enabling essential operations of hospitals, telecommunications facilities, airports, and more.” Basically, backup generators are vital for any piece of critical infrastructure that cannot withstand the loss of power.
While it’s hard to dispute the value backup power systems provide in times of crisis, the use of these mobile power systems are now being viewed increasingly through the lens of sustainability.
Fortunately, that’s where the role of fuel innovation and technology comes into play. As Lamberg noted, “Existing backup generation can run on 100% renewable fuels. Moving from (petroleum) diesel to renewable diesel (RD) can offer immediate results towards the goal of reducing air emissions.”
“By replacing fossil diesel with RD, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by as much as 75%. While renewable diesel is not a ‘silver bullet’, we need every solution to reduce carbon and emissions while maintaining access to reliable, life-saving power sources,” Leuck said. Neste, the largest producer of RD in the world, is producing renewable diesel (also known as hydrotreated vegetable oil, HVO) from waste, residue, and other new renewable raw materials.
The panelists fielded a range of technical questions and others addressing the policies regarding renewable diesel fuel. Klein, the author of a recent whitepaper, Benefits of Renewable Bio-Based Diesel Fuels, noted that, “We are in an energy transition, but we are missing policies and strategies to support an actual transition.” She suggested California (and other state) policymakers should align their climate and air quality goals and foster the use of RD and biodiesel-RD blends for backup generators to encourage decarbonization. She added, RD for backup power generation is, “the elegant interim solution.”
Policies that should be considered were discussed by the group and include: Incentivizing the use of RD for backup generators and other temporary power sources, and creating a state tax incentive based on greenhouse gas reduction that is structured similar to federal tax credits that have supported these bio-based fuels. Currently, tax credits and incentives are only available for renewable diesel fuels used in transportation, not other uses such as power generation.
“Virtually every person, government and business, is looking for the right balance – in this case the balancing of the demand for reliable electric power for essential uses and to protect public health and safety, with the desire for energy to be more sustainable. We have that solution today available to us in the form of renewable diesel that can be used in any diesel engine,” noted ETF’s Executive Director, Allen Schaeffer.
In the concluding question and answer session, panelists affirmed an energy transition is underway, though it is uneven and, in many ways, uncertain. At the present time, some of the transition goals are being revisited, and timeframes reset as economics become clearer. While there is considerable investment in new technologies for power generation, the best insurance (from unreliable electric power supplies) is still fuel in the tank.