Unveiling the Future: Alternative Power Trends

Explore the sustainability initiatives, new regulations and technological innovations that have opened a world of possibilities for the utility industry

Adobe Stock 261620456

Sustainability initiatives, new regulations and technological innovation have opened a world of possibilities for the utility industry.

With intense global initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, equipment manufacturers are exploring ways to lessen the carbon impact of their machines. A range of alternative power solutions are being considered: replacing the diesel engine, reconfiguring the engine to run on alternative fuels, and making the diesel engine as efficient as possible.

The utility industry is well on its way to lessening its carbon footprint with efficient diesel engines. Compared to Tier 1 engines, today’s Tier 4 Final engines offer a 96% reduction of oxides of nitrogen and a 97% reduction in particulate matter. The proposed Tier 5 emissions regulations will reduce emissions even further. The gradual retirement of an aging fleet will also reduce emissions, especially when you consider the significant reduction in emissions that occurred between Tier 3 and Tier 4.

Modifying these already efficient, conventional engines allows them to burn alternative fuels, which doesn’t typically require widespread changes in jobsite practices, machine componentry or fueling infrastructure. Manufacturers are beginning to produce fuel-agnostic engines and explore the usage of various low-carbon fuels, including hydrogen, natural gas and ethanol.

Hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe, can be used as both a low-carbon fuel and a fuel cell to charge a battery-electric machine. In a fuel cell, electrical energy and water are produced through an electrochemical process combining hydrogen and oxygen. A clean and renewable source of high-density energy with good energy efficiency, manufacturers are working alongside the U.S. Department of Energy in the early stages of hydrogen fuel cell implementation.

Much of the alternative power conversation has centered on electric, particularly in the compact and utility equipment industries. Commercially available electric machines feature varying degrees of electrification, offering zero emissions, less noise, and instant response while delivering the same breakout force as a diesel-powered engine. Battery power density continues to increase as manufacturers utilize technologies to make better use of battery energy.

The instant response of electric machines also correlates directly to real-time efficiency, minimizing idle time and reducing wear and tear on the machine. With fewer components and moving parts than their fuel-burning counterparts, electric machines typically require less overall maintenance, reducing downtime and operating expenses. As the reliability of these electric machines is validated in the market, the utility industry can begin to meet regulatory and societal pressures to reduce carbon emissions while seeing operational gains.

There won’t be one singular solution to reduce carbon emissions. The utility industry will adopt a variety of alternative power solutions over the next handful of years.

Get more info: The Utility Expo will highlight alternative power throughout the show, Sept. 26-28, 2023, in Louisville, Kentucky.