The Microturbine Market Gains Traction

by | May 11, 2016

capstone1It’s only May, but it already has been a good year for Capstone Turbine. The company has announced 13 deals, mostly of multiple units.

The key element of a turbine is a wheel or rotor. It is made to revolve by an outside force, which could be water, steam, or – in the case of Capstone — air. That movement generates power. As the name implies, microturbines are smaller units that have a decidedly different use case than their more established and bigger cousins.

Capstone President and CEO Darren Jamison said that this approach is a good choice for retrofits and installations in which space is at a premium. He said that return on investment for such devices are about five years. Microturbines fit well in platforms that reuse formerly wasted energy.

The microturbine market is set to grow, though it seems likely to remain a specialized market. MarketsandMarkets reported earlier this spring that the value of the sector will expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.5 percent between this year and 2021. The total value at that point will be $249.9 million.

The drivers, according to the report, investments aimed at meeting increasing worldwide demand for electricity and the growing adoption of CHP. Industrial applications accounted for more than half the use of microturbines. The report says that the leading market is North America, which is followed by Europe and Asia-Pacific. The four leading companies are Capstone, FlexEnergy, Ansaldo Energia and Brayton Energy. Ansaldo Energia is based in Italy. The other three companies are American.

Jamison says that Capstone holds 112 patents. The company offers two models. The turbines move in the larger unit at 65,000 revolutions per minute and at 96,000 in the smaller. The technology is unique in a couple of ways, he says. Like solar panels, it is inverter based. The electricity is generated in alternating current, transition to direcapstone2ct current and back to alternating current at the voltage needed by the customer.

The other big difference is that Capstone’s microturbines are air cooled, Jamison said. The absence of any other substance to cool them means that a higher percentage of the energy they throw off is available for the secondary use in combined heat and power (CHP) installations. It also means that they can deployed even the harshest environment. Capstone, Jamison said, has microturbines deployed in the North Pole, the South Pole and Siberia. The simplicity of the turbines lead to reliability. “There is one moving part and very low maintenance,” Jamison said.
The company has been active. Just since the beginning of the year, Capstone has announced deals for its microturbines in Columbia, Indonesia and Malaysia, China, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Mexico, Australia. Some of the deals are with distributors and some from end users. Another project will see the microturbines used in the South China Sea.

Capstone offered three examples of deployments it has done.

  • In Italy, it was installed at Consorzio Nazionale Dettaglianti (CONAD), a large scale food distribution cooperative. The combined cooling heating and power (CCHP) system saves about 47 Euros ($51) per hour. The primary savings, the company says, measures out at 4,000 mWh and 35 Tep (thermoelectric power).
  • The Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union installed a trigeneration system in 2013. It has cut carbon emissions by 1,468 tons annually. It also provides backup power independent of the grid.
  • Viking Yacht Company deployed a CCHP system that now provides 40 percent of its power and all of its space heating and chilled water. The plant has cut costs by 25 percent annually and provided payback of less than five years.

The increasing focus on doing things as efficiency and cleanly as possible and the age-old and continuing focus on finances means that organizations are more willing to think creatively. Capstone Turbine – which has about 3,000 customers in 73 countries, most with multiple units – is tapping into this new perspective.

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