Unleashing renewable fuels now to bridge the gap to net zero

Jan. 8, 2022
Diesel generators are often attractive in regard to power density and cost, but can fall short for companies with sustainability commitments such as achieving net-zero emissions. Solar panels pass the test for zero-carbon power and integration, but don’t deliver the needed reliability. Chris Ellis of PowerSecure, explores why renewable fuels should be considered for reliable, safe, and low-carbon backup power generation.

It’s no surprise businesses are racing to install backup generation resources to boost the resiliency of their operations. As they plan for the future, they see a growing number of extreme weather and infrastructure challenges chipping away at the reliability of the electric grid.

When choosing a resiliency solution, these businesses generally want four things:

  1. Low-carbon power that helps them meet sustainability goals
  2. Reliable electricity when they need it most, such as when the grid is down
  3. Seamless integration with existing infrastructure and assets
  4. A solution that is available now and at scale

The problem is that the most common backup generation options today don’t hit the mark on all four. Diesel generators are often attractive in regard to power density and cost, but can fall short for companies with sustainability commitments such as achieving net-zero emissions. Solar panels pass the test for zero-carbon power and integration but don’t deliver the needed reliability. Combining battery storage with solar can solve the reliability issue but only for short-term power, typically 5-30 minutes, while driving costs too high for many businesses.

There is one solution, however, that delivers for businesses across all four measures: renewable fuels.

Case in point: renewable diesel

Renewable diesel is available today and has been widely used in the transportation industry. It is compatible with diesel engines and delivers tried-and-tested reliability with reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to using fossil diesel to power the generator.

Many businesses don’t realize renewable diesel is available to help them move toward net-zero operations faster. The “drop-in” renewable ready fuel can be fully utilized immediately with no equipment modifications or additional costs required, allowing customers to transition away from fossil fuels while still attaining the same performance and reliability they experienced with traditional fossil diesel.

“As part of an ongoing effort to reduce the environmental impact of our solutions, Volvo Penta approved the use of renewable fuels in all of our engines globally, and we did so with our partners and sustainability in mind,” said Darren Tasker, vice president of industrial sales at Volvo Penta. “There are no modifications necessary to run on these types of fuels, and they’ve been shown to operate without any change in performance, making the transition seamless and efficient for operators.”

The sustainability opportunity

How is renewable diesel made? The Energy Information Administration says it can be produced from cellulosic biomass materials such as crop residues, wood and sawdust, and switchgrass.

Neste, one of its producers, uses renewable and sustainably sourced raw materials, such as used cooking oil and waste animal fat. Over its life cycle, renewable diesel can reduce up to 80% greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil diesel over the life cycle. It also emits less nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, has beneficial storage properties compared to biodiesel, and makes it easier for engines to start when the weather is cold due to its high cetane number.

“Renewable diesel is not an experimental product. It is a fully proven solution that has been supported by many renowned equipment manufacturers,” said Carrie Song, vice president of sales with Neste.

Extreme weather and an aging power grid mean businesses need resiliency now, so the popularity of diesel generators is understandable. However, all of those relatively small diesel generators backing up operations adds up to a large, under-the-radar source of greenhouse gas emissions.

In California alone, nearly 22,000 diesel-fueled power generation units are located in just five of the state’s 35 air districts as of 2020. These units generate 632 GWh of electricity per year, but emit more than 442,000 metric tons of CO2, according to a recent report by policy consulting and analysis firm M-Cubed. If those generators all ran on renewable diesel, the total annual greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by over 331,000 metric tons, delivering the same climate benefits of turning 71,986 cars into zero-emissions, according to Neste.

That kind of quick, easily integrated, reliable and affordable sustainability solution is difficult to find with today’s available technology alternatives. And by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, renewable diesel helps businesses meet sustainability goals throughout the life of their generators.

The transition to renewable fuel helps organizations achieve multiple goals, not only sustainability, but also resiliency. For businesses seeking to protect their investments and assets from being stranded as technology evolves, reduce carbon emissions from operations and maintain critical operations during grid outages, the time to transition can be now.

To learn more, listen to the Microgrid Knowledge webinar Renewable Fuels as a Low Carbon Solution for Resiliency Needs, featuring representatives from PowerSecure, Volvo Penta and Neste. In it, we discuss the potential of renewable diesel and a shared commitment to deliver renewable diesel-powered microgrid solutions to customers.

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