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Studying distributed generation needs -- Australia and United States

The nature of energy distribution could change drastically in both the United States and Australia if new research into reshaping markets to encouraged decentralised generation bears fruit. In the US, the Department of Energy (DOE) has budgeted $10 million this fiscal year to establish the Distributed Energy Resources Center at the DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado. And in Australia, a Centre for Distributed Energy and Power has been set up as a new branch of the Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Research at NREL will focus on the technology of small, dispersed generators and the complexities of setting standards and policies of grid connection. NREL's Gary Schmitz says the lab will consolidate much of what it has been doing with research into fuel cells and micro turbines, as well as its long time research into wind, biomass and solar energy. The centre will also have units dealing with resource and environmental evaluation as well as hydrogen and natural gas systems.

In Australia, CSIRO's research will focus on combining gas and fuel cell energy sources with renewable generation technologies to develop localised distributed energy systems. Potentially, the systems could range from multi-megawatt capacity for industrial and commercial uses down to 10 kW systems for domestic dwellings. Chief of CSIRO Energy Technology, John Wright, says the aim is to deliver an "appropriate mix and match energy system" for each situation.

"It is the combination of high reliability and low emissions that makes distributed energy so attractive," adds Wright. He points to the ability of modern generating technologies to be located close to end users as a means of increasing efficiency. This ideology is shared by advocates of distributed generation in the US. They say that market frameworks which encourage local power will help boost wind energy development in the Midwest, particularly, where some of the best resources are found in remote areas with a weak or no grid.

From CSIRO's new distributed power centre, based in Newcastle in New South Wales, Tony Vassallo says: "Wind energy is rapidly becoming the most economically attractive option for areas with a good resource and a demand for power situated nearby." He adds that the centre is keen to further joint venture studies with industry into storage technologies to make wind generation more dispatchable in times of peak loads.

CSIRO's wind energy research and development is focused on resource assessment for broadening optimal strategies for wind's inclusion into micro grids and existing large scale grids. Partnerships between government and industry are being sought for establishment of working projects throughout the country.

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