PORTLAND, OR — Portland’s 200 Market Street Building recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony and awards presentation marking the installation of a new mircroturbine — a first for an Oregon office building. Building owner John Russell received awards from the Bonneville Power Administration and other participants. The building features a window that allows visitors to see the inner workings of the refrigerator-sized microturbine that uses natural gas to generate some of the office building’s electric power.

The system is a 30-kW microturbine manufactured by Capstone Turbine (Chatsworth, CA). According to the American Gas Association (AGA), the microturbine can generate enough power to run the night and emergency lights for the entire 18-story building. AGA also says that the efficiency of the system is further enhanced because its waste heat is used to run an absorption chiller, which creates air conditioning from heat rather than electricity.

“The ability of office buildings, retail stores, hotels, and other commercial and industrial facilities to generate their own reliable supply of electricity with minimal pollution is revolutionizing the energy industry,” said Walter Woods, managing director of commercial markets for AGA. “Some people have dubbed microturbines and fuel cells as ‘magic in a box’ because they provide highly reliable power — up to 99.9999% reliability — with virtually no harmful emissions.”

The U.S. Congress is seeking to promote increased use of this type of distributed energy, via tax incentives contained in an energy bill being negotiated by House and Senate members.

“Natural gas utilities are often involved in these projects because natural gas is the preferred fuel of choice for small-scale, on-site power generation systems such as microturbines and fuel cells,” said Woods.

Some other recent distributed generation projects involving natural gas utilities include the Verizon Communications facility near Boston, MA; two Sheraton Hotels in New Jersey; the Goose Island Brewing Co. in Chicago, IL; and several more.

According to AGA, microturbines are self-contained, gas turbine units similar to miniature jet engines that use natural gas or other fuels to generate electric power and usable heat. About 2,000 are currently operating worldwide, and commercially available units can produce 25 to 75 kW of electricity. The organization says that this application is appropriate for restaurants, drug stores, and other commercial or light industrial facilities.

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data and independent test figures, natural gas-fueled microturbines produce each kilowatt of power with 90% fewer pollutants than the average natural gas-fueled utility power plant. Also, when both energy forms — electricity and exhaust heat — are used, a microturbine’s fuel efficiency is double that of the average power plant.

For more information, visit www.aga.org (website).

Publication date: 10/28/2002