It’s mid-afternoon in sunny California and your team is scrambling to finish a deal-clinching presentation when BAM! the power goes down. You’ve been caught in a rolling blackout that state regulators have ordered as a heat wave brings on millions of air conditioners. Backup batteries will give you enough time to shut down your system, but you can forget about finishing that presentation. Lights out, right?Not when a pair of refrigerator-sized turbines in back of your office jump to life, transforming natural gas into a steady stream of electrons to keep the office humming. Systems like these “microturbines,” along with fuel cells that extract electrical power from fuel without burning it, are changing the rules in the power game. No longer must you rely on a monopolistic utility that can take you-and your power needs-for granted.
These “micropower generators” aren’t just about emergency backup, either. They can provide higher quality power 24/7 than you can buy from your local utility. Plug into one of these systems and you’ll avoid the computer-crashing voltage spikes and sags that mar the electricity coming out of a garden-variety wall socket. And micropower means you can forsake the grid when power prices surge, or even make an extra buck by exporting power to your neighbors. Spread enough micropower throughout the grid, and the grid itself will begin to learn tricks that could make regionwide power outages an unpleasant memory.
As our reliance on electric and electronic systems increases, many businesses-and consumers-need better performance than the 99.9 percent reliability the local electric power grid provides. These demanding users need what utilities call “premium power”: pure, top-grade electrical juice that flows without fail. Manufacturers, banks, telecommunications providers-just about any company that depends on computers or digital equipment such as Web servers and routers-need premium power. And the only sure way to get it, energy experts agree, is to generate it yourself.