Utility Grade Power Generation Using Recip Engines 


More and more industrial companies are looking at power generation.

There are many avenues to creating your own power.

Technologies such as solar and wind are gaining more acceptance for industrial plants. The downside of these two technologies is until we discover economic ways of storing power through battery, or capacitor technology…the power created only rarely matches the demand. The power comes in when it comes in … when the sun shines, or when the wind blows.

If one can sell to the grid then it is not such a detriment as the grid becomes the reservoir to soak up excess power being generated, or to draw from when demand exceeds production. However there are a lot of hurdles to overcome when one wants to connect to the grid.  Because of these complexities and obstacles most companies prefer to provide power “behind the meter”.

For direct demand matching we generally look at forms of combustion that will turn a generator. It could be providing a base load, or it could follow the actual demand in real time.

With the different types of combustion technology, electricity is produced to meet the demand through altering the fuel being consumed so that when demand is higher more combustion will occur.

A tried and true technology that has been around for a long time and continues to provide reliable power are reciprocating (or “recip”) engines.

Using natural gas, or synthetic gas made from biomass, or diesel fuel, recip engines will follow the demand curve of a plant such as a sugar mill, paper mill, or any industrial setting.

The recips are often large diameter multiple cylinder engines.

For industrial power generation they will come complete with all of the connections to the transformer and switch gear and for reducing cost of installation, all of it can be supplied within a standard steel container box that can be dropped into place at the plant.

When looking at in house generated power the lifecycle costs are important. Here is where cost of maintenance can be a big deciding factor. Some of the higher speed recip engines, such as 1800 RPM can require a top end overhaul at the six-month mark and a complete overhaul at the one-year mark. In which case power has to be purchased, or another unit rented for the outage. These maintenance costs can submerge a profitable project payback.

That’s why it is important to consider the cost economic benefits of lower speed machines – such as a 900 RPM or 750 RPM. With these low-speed machines, the mean-time between overhauls is greatly expanded – often to the four-year mark. When the maintenance is extended the cost of operation comes down significantly.

Recip engines are often the lifeblood of many remote communities, or locations where an established grid has not be set up, such as islands in the Caribbean, developing nations, or in the first world where natural gas is very inexpensive.

Many industrial plants are seeing the cost of electricity climb, becoming more significant in relation to the other production and overhead costs of industrial sites.

These plants are currently exploring generating their own power in combined heat and power (CHP) configurations. The heat rejected from the recip water jacket and the exhaust stack can be recovered to produce steam for the process, or to provide a secondary supply of electricity through a steam turbine.

Recip engines have an established place in power production because of their high reliability, especially with the lower speed RPM engines, and their ease of following the demand load. They can be supplied to be “plug-and-play” and will provide reliable electricity for many years.

They also often play an important role in filling the 1 MW to 5 MW niche.

Recip engines will not only continue to play an significant part in producing power but will gain even greater acceptance in the market. They offer the ability to produce power with a minimum of design and capital outlay and have no requirement for operating engineers for those industrial plants without an existing powerhouse.


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