A reader named ipdrive, commenting on my June 4 posting, “Microturbines are Less Efficient than the Grid”, correctly observed omission of the following points from my microturbine analysis:
1. Grid distribution penalties reduce the efficiency of grid-supplied electricity by a further 7% than I estimated.
2. Most micro-turbines are configured for co-generation – that is combined heat and power (CHP) or combined cooling, heat, and power (CHHP). These configurations yield an electric + heat/cooling efficiency approaching 80%.
3. Many micro-turbines are installed to capture energy from gas that would otherwise be flared to atmosphere, yielding energy from essentially free fuel.
Accepting these omissions, I perhaps came across too harsh on the utility of micro-turbines in the niche applications of CHP/CCHP and effluent energy recovery. Nonetheless, as I demonstrated for corn ethanol in my post “Corn-Based Ethanol: The Free Market Speaks”, the market has an uncanny ability to punish technologies that are uncompetitive.
For example, the purest microturbine play, Capstone Microturbines (stock ticker CPST), has teetered on the brink of financial oblivion since late 2001, with its stock trading sideways at around $1.00 for the past 6 years. CPST has not enjoyed the rebound in stock value seen by companies in other energy sectors.
Despite the technical merits of microturbines illuminated by ipdrive, the folks on Wall Street seem to agree with my original assessment in “Microturbines are Less Efficient than the Grid”: microturbine technology isn’t going anywhere fast.