Diesel generators have earned and maintained a long-standing reputation for being an emergency standby power generation workhorse – bulky, noisy, a little smelly, but overall fairly reliable.
Recent advances in natural gas technology, however, are starting to topple diesel’s dominance. Natural gas gensets – quieter, cleaner and more efficient – present a sleek and increasingly popular alternative to diesel. They’re quickly redefining the power generation industry in much the same way Tesla and electric cars redefined the automotive industry.
The ecological benefits of natural gas versus diesel generators are obvious. Natural gas burns significantly cleaner; produces lower emissions of sulfur, nitrogen and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; and lacks the strong, distinguishing diesel odor. However, those benefits alone aren’t enough to justify a natural gas system if the costs are prohibitive, which they’ve been in the past.
With today’s technology, however, natural gas systems such as the gaseous product line from Generac Industrial Power, one of North America’s largest suppliers of power generation equipment, are actually able to lower capital expenses over a system’s lifetime compared to traditional diesel generators.
This article will highlight the benefits of natural gas gensets, demonstrate how these benefits reduce capital expenses, and discuss how to team up with an engineering support partner such as Generac to tailor a system to the needs of your specific application.
Working with natural gas was somewhat problematic until a few years ago when new technologies increased the durability and reliability of these gensets.
Natural gas generators have a comparatively limited power output. This means an individual natural gas generator generally cannot match the wattage of its diesel counterpart. However, when you install multiple natural gas generators together in parallel configuration or genset, not only can they produce a comparable or even greater amount of power, they also offer flexibility, scalability, and numerous additional benefits detailed below.
Easier Permitting: Natural gas is a clean burning fuel that does not require excessive testing or permitting. The high level of emissions produced by diesel generators often increases the difficulty in procuring an air-quality permit.
Long Run Times During Outages: Since natural gas is supplied by a utility with underground pipelines, it is rarely impacted by weather and the flow of fuel is largely secure—they can often run for weeks and months. For diesel generators, the fuel supply typically ends after three days. During a crisis, fuel deliveries are often delayed or non-existent.
Low Maintenance: In diesel generators, the required low sulfur diesel gas needs to be re-conditioned or polished every 12-16 months to ensure impurities don’t affect fuel flow. This is not an issue with natural gas.
Cost-effective Engines: Automotive-style spark-ignited engines are readily available in high volumes, making them more economical than similarly sized diesel engines.
Reliable Fuel Supply: With diesel fuel, winter storms or unexpected disasters can wreak havoc on operations across the country. If supply trucks are delayed, it can greatly impact production.
Overall Eco-friendliness: Many companies are becoming very “green” and considering that aspect in every part of new construction or as they remodel. Natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel today; it produces the fewest emissions, and has a much smaller carbon footprint. Natural gas generators also avoid the fuel containment, spillage, and environmental concerns associated with storing diesel fuel.
In the past, natural gas generators came with a hefty price tag. Today, however, the technology has become much more accessible and affordable. In fact, many natural gas gensets now offer a significantly lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than their diesel counterparts.
Technology enhancements create efficiencies that translate to cost savings in nearly every aspect of the product lifecycle – from installation to maintenance to fuel cost. Some of the primary cost reduction benefits are detailed below.
Capital Investment: The ability to add additional paralleled generators into your natural gas system over time can mean a significant reduction in your initial capital investment. There is no need to install more power than currently needed, since more modules can be added in the future as business grows or power requirements increase.
Installation Cost: The capital investment to specify and install two paralleled lower-kW generators compared to one larger-kW generator can be similar. However, paralleled units often have the advantage of greater installation support from the supplier, which offsets some of the initial cost. Their lighter weight makes them easier to move and place on job sites, requiring smaller, less expensive lifting equipment, and the simple design means installation time is decreased.
Fuel Cost: In the United States, the cost of natural gas trends significantly lower than that of diesel. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s April 2017 Alternative Fuel Price Report, the national average price between April 1 and April 17, 2017 for natural gas was $2.15/GGE. The average price of diesel during time period was $2.55/gallon – 18% higher.
Servicing and Maintenance Cost: A single paralleled unit can be taken out of service for maintenance or repair while other units remain available should an outage occur. Smaller paralleled generators can also be stored in easier-to-access locations like on rooftops or in parking garages.
When considering a natural gas system, it’s important to find an engineering partner who fully understands the needs of your application and has the products, expertise, technology and resources to help you develop the best, most cost-effective solution.
For over 50 years, Generac has driven much of the innovation that’s occurred within the power generation industry – especially many of the recent advancement in natural gas technology. Beyond its technology leadership, however, the company also provides comprehensive sales, design, installation and service support from a team of engineers who have worked in the field for decades. Many commercial, industrial and mission critical facilities value rely on Generac not just as a supplier, but also as a true engineering partner.
Their in-the-trenches experience produces solutions designed to meet real-world needs. Before any of Generac generators go into production, engineers evaluate, analyze, and test every component down to the tiniest detail. This includes a full spectrum sound test, endurance testing, and a comprehensive set of highly specialized tests on cooling system performance, a torsional analysis, transient response, and maximum motor starting and structural soundness.
Generac has the ability to present you with a whole array of tried and true options and configure them to accommodate your specific requirements.
As we’ve identified in this article, natural gas gensets provide a better alternative to diesel in numerous applications. They’re cleaner, more flexible, more cost effective, and they present a variety of other advantages.
Diesel generators had a good run. But it might finally be time for you to put the old workhorse out to pasture and team up with a manufacturer like Generac to evaluate your natural gas options and start reducing your expenses.
If you have questions about Generac’s gaseous generators or want to learn more, visit Generac's Industrial Power Distributor locator, call us at 1-844-ASK-GNRC, or email ASKGNRC@generac.com to talk to a Generac technical sales representative. Check out our 50KW-350KW natural gas generators.