Magazine article Earth Island Journal

The Micropower Revolution

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

The Micropower Revolution

Article excerpt

Power interruptions cost the US as much as $80 billion annually. In 1997, the First National Bank of Omaha saw its computers crash after a power failure. Today, First National's computer processing center is powered by two fuel cells whose reliability is rated at 99.9999 percent.

Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water. Dozens of companies in Europe and the US are preparing to commercialize fuel cells with outputs that range from a few milliamps to 200 kilowatts. These will become commercially available in the next two years.

Advanced gas microturbines derived from aerospace jet engines are being mass-produced and installed in hospitals, restaurants and other commercial buildings.

Externally heated Stirring engines -- which use renewable fuels tike biogas, solar heat or woodchips to warm a gas that drives pistons -- are becoming popular in European homes,

With cogeneration (using waste heat for water or space heating) these engines can reach 85 percent efficiency white producing little, if any, air pollution.

Micropower devices are examples of "distributed generation." With distributed generation, power is created right where it is needed. With large, centralized plants, as much as half the power generated is lost as it travels through transmission lines.

Modular systems, which can be easily adjusted to match demand and can be installed almost everywhere, could save the $850 billion electricity industry millions of dollars by avoiding new investments in centralized plants and distribution systems. …

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