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As the electric utility industry continues to restructure, driven both by rapidly evolving regulatory environments and by market forces, the emergence of a number of new generation technologies also profoundly influences the industry's outlook. While it is certainly true that government public policies and regulations have played a major role in the rapidly growing rate at which distributed generation is penetrating the market, it is also the case that a number of technologies have reached a development stage allowing for large-scale implementation within existing electric utility systems. At the onset of any discussion related to distributed generation, one question begs to be answered: is the fact that electric power producing facilities are distributed actually a new and revolutionary concept? Have power plants not always been located across broad expanses of land? The answer to these questions clearly is that electric power plants have always been sited all across the service territories of the utilities owning them. Hence, the opening question: as with many so-called innovations that have been put forward during the recent past, is the entire concept of distributed generation a simple semantic marketing hype or are we actually at the dawn of a new electric power generation era? We believe that a new electric power production industry is emerging, and that it will rely on a broad array of new technologies. This article sets the stage for distributed generation covering such topics as: the present power production situation; what distributed generation is; capability ratings and system interfaces; market penetration of internal combustion engine generators, fuel cells and microturbines; potential generation mix issues, network considerations including power quality, reactive power coordination, reliability and reserve margin, reliability, network redundancy, safety and accountability; public policy and regulatory impact; and standards.
Date of Publication: Jan-Feb 2003