Reliable standby power provides protection in the event of power failure. For critical operations, like hospitals, data centers and water treatment plants, continuous power is essential. Standby applications inherently have limited hours of operation because they only kick on when there’s an interruption in power flow from the main source. Therefore, the more hours the dedicated standby system runs, the more important your fuel choice becomes.
The standby market is generally dominated by diesel-fueled generator sets because they can be installed with lower capital investment (per power output), and typically provide better transient (load acceptance) capabilities. Nevertheless, natural gas generator sets are gaining popularity for reliable standby power solutions thanks to ease of maintenance and reduced emissions compared to traditional diesel fuels.
Applications which may be better suited for natural gas standby gensets include:
Sites subject to tighter emission requirements
Areas that endure frequent and/or dangerous storms (hurricanes, extreme cold and/or floods) where genset system may not be accessible for extended periods
Applications where extended outages are expected
Benefits of Using Natural Gas in Standby Applications
The biggest advantage in using natural gas in a standby application is the availability of a reliable fuel supply. Natural gas lines produce a 24-7 supply that runs underground, meaning they are generally protected from hazardous storms, floods and hurricanes. This also eliminates the need for fuel storage tanks which require refueling, regulation and maintenance to avoid gelling and waxing in colder environments, flooding in wet climates and algae growth that can damage the system.
Natural gas reduces costs related to manpower, fuel storage and fuel treatment.
Operating costs for a natural gas gensets are dramatically less than diesel units. Even with the limited hours of a standby application, the savings add up quickly. A standby power system typically operates between 50 and 100 hours per year, and up to 500 hours per year at maximum. With today’s fuel pricing, a natural gas-operated standby power system utilized for only 50 hours per year can save more than $15,000 per year in fuel costs. These savings can quickly help justify the natural gas choice, either on its own or as a supplement to traditional diesel standby systems. Having the option to switch to natural gas during an extended outage can significantly reduce operating costs.
Another benefit to using natural gas is reduced exhaust emissions. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets limits on the amount of emissions from exhaust-producing engines, which includes generator sets. Operating on a lean mixture of fuel and air, lean-burn natural gas gensets release up to five times less NOx and virtually zero particulate matter output as compared to traditional diesel-fueled sources. Natural gas-operated generator sets equipped with air fuel ratio controls meet current EPA New Source Performance Standards and exhaust emissions criteria without additional fuel treatment for a more efficient alternative.
Analyzing Natural Gas Engines
Cat Dealers use Caterpillar’s Gas Engine Rating Pro (GERP), a PC-based software program that creates customized performance data specific to a site's altitude, ambient temperature and fuel that customers can use for analytical purposes. For an individualized data report or more information on gas powered standby products, please contact your local Cat Dealer.
Now we’d like to hear about your experience with standby natural gas generator sets.
Do you currently use natural gas engines to power your standby application? If so, tell us about it.
Would you consider using natural gas engines for your standby application? Why or why not?
Do you foresee any problems using natural gas engines in standby applications?
Is there anything Caterpillar could do to improve your experience with natural gas engines?