There are many reasons why diesel power systems are so widespread. Diesel generators are by far the lowest capital cost electric generation technology in the sub-MW size range. They are a well-established and well-understood technology and there is a worldwide support infrastructure in place. When properly operated and maintained they are also very robust and reliable.
However, diesels also have major disadvantages. They are noisy and emit significant air pollution. Though relatively cheap on the world market, transportation costs can make diesel fuel very expensive in remote locations. In arctic communities, where fuel may only be delivered once per year, fuel storage costs also are very high, and the risks of major fuel spills greater.
Finally, because diesels require frequent oil changes and other service at regular intervals, they have a relatively high maintenance cost per kWh delivered. Wind-diesel hybrid power systems preserve the advantages of diesel generators while mitigating their disadvantages. Wind turbines have a higher cost per installed kW capacity, but zero emissions, zero fuel cost, and lower routine maintenance requirements than diesels. Rural utilities and national energy agencies worldwide are beginning to see the opportunity that wind diesel hybrids offer to reduce the life-cycle cost and environmental impact of rural electric service.
Because an existing diesel plant frequently represents a substantial investment, it often appears more cost-effective to retrofit wind turbines, system controls, and any other required ancillary components to the existing power system rather than build a completely new wind diesel hybrid system from the ground up. This was true in the case of the Wales, Alaska, High-Penetration Wind-Diesel Project, a technology demonstration project in which the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) collaborated with the Kotzebue Electric Association (KEA), the Alaska Village Electric Cooperative (AVEC), and the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA).
Author: Stephen Drouilhet
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