Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat.
Distributed energy resource (DER) systems are small-scale power generation or storage technologies (typically in the range of 1 kW to 10,000 kW) used to provide an alternative to or an enhancement of the traditional electric power system. DER systems typically are characterized by high initial capital costs per kilowatt. DER systems also serve as storage device and are often called Distributed energy storage systems (DESS).
DER systems may include the following devices/technologies:
Distributed cogeneration sources use steam turbines, natural gas-fired fuel cells, microturbines or reciprocating engines to turn generators. The hot exhaust is then used for space or water heating, or to drive an absorptive chiller for cooling such as air-conditioning. In addition to natural gas-based schemes, distributed energy projects can also include other renewable or low carbon fuels including biofuels, biogas, landfill gas, sewage gas, coal bed methane, syngas and associated petroleum gas.
In addition, molten carbonate fuel cell and solid oxide fuel cells using natural gas, such as the ones from FuelCell Energy and the Bloom energy server, or waste-to-energy processes such as the Gate 5 Energy System are used as a distributed energy resource.
Photovoltaics, by far the most important solar technology for distributed generation of solar power, uses solar cells assembled into solar panels to convert sunlight into electricity. It is a fast-growing technology doubling its worldwide installed capacity every couple of years. PV systems range from distributed, residential, and commercial rooftop or building integrated installations, to large, centralized utility-scale photovoltaic power stations.
The predominant PV technology is crystalline silicon, while thin-film solar cell technology accounts for about 10 percent of global photovoltaic deployment. In recent years, PV technology has improved its sunlight to electricity conversion efficiency, reduced the installation cost per watt as well as its energy payback time (EPBT) and levelised cost of electricity (LCOE), and has reached grid parity in at least 19 different markets in 2014.
As most renewable energy sources and unlike coal and nuclear, solar PV is variable and non-dispatchable, but has no fuel costs, operating pollution, as well as greatly reduced mining-safety and operating-safety issues. It produces peak power around local noon each day and its capacity factor is around 20 percent.
Wind turbines can be distributed energy resources or they can be built at utility scale. These have low maintenance and low pollution, but distributed wind unlike utility-scale wind has much higher costs than other sources of energy. As with solar, wind energy is variable and non-dispatchable. Wind towers and generators have substantial insurable liabilities caused by high winds, but good operating safety. Distributed generation from wind hybrid power systems combines wind power with other DER systems. One such example is the integration of wind turbines into solar hybrid power systems, as wind tends to complement solar because the peak operating times for each system occur at different times of the day and year.
Hydroelectricity is the most widely used form of renewable energy and its potential has already been explored to a large extent or is compromised due to issues such as environmental impacts on fisheries, and increased demand for recreational access. However, using modern 21st century technology, such as wave power, can make large amounts of new hydropower capacity available, with minor environmental impact.
Modular and scalable Next generation kinetic energy turbines can be deployed in arrays to serve the needs on a residential, commercial, industrial, municipal or even regional scale. Microhydro kinetic generators neither require dams nor impoundments, as they utilize the kinetic energy of water motion, either waves or flow. No construction is needed on the shoreline or sea bed, which minimizes environmental impacts to habitats and simplifies the permitting process. Such power generation also has minimal environmental impact and non-traditional microhydro applications can be tethered to existing construction such as docks, piers, bridge abutments, or similar structures.
Municipal solid waste (MSW) and natural waste, such as sewage sludge, food waste and animal manure will decompose and discharge methane-containing gas that can be collected and used as fuel in gas turbines or micro turbines to produce electricity as a distributed energy resource. Additionally, a California-based company, Gate 5 Energy Partners, Inc. has developed a process that transforms natural waste materials, such as sewage sludge, into biofuel that can be combusted to power a steam turbine that produces power. This power can be used in lieu of grid-power at the waste source (such as a treatment plant, farm or dairy).
A distributed energy resource is not limited to the generation of electricity but may also include a device to store distributed energy (DE). Distributed energy storage systems (DESS) applications include several types of battery, pumped hydro, compressed air, and thermal energy storage. Access to energy storage for commercial applications is easily accessible through programs such as energy storage as a service (ESaaS).