Compiled by Chege Moses Kasaija

Navigant Research, says in a recent whitepaper report, that the global energy system is shifting to cleaner, more affordable, and decentralized options that are providing customers with more flexibility in meeting their core energy and power needs. While the emphasis over the past 10 years has been on renewables, all forms of generation are shifting to a smart, platform-based business model. This is becoming the new norm, allowing customers to flexibly adapt their generation systems to meet their own specific need for reliable power. Within this mix of distributed energy resources (DER), generator sets (gensets) have an opportunity to become smart, cloud-enabled sources of reliable power. They are a highly mature technology with an enormous installed base, and with the right controls and business model, they are emerging as a key enabling technology for the next generation of integrated DER.

Given the rapid capital cost decline of distributed renewables, and the increasing usage of energy storage, one could be forgiven for thinking this was the only pathway. In the near- and mid-term, gensets will continue to be one of the primary DER technologies deployed because of their unique value-add benefits, as they provide the backbone to many of the world’s microgrids; for example, enabling the deployment of remote, distributed power systems and critical black-start functions for grid-connected systems. It is in this emerging economy sector where onsite power generation has had the most success to date out of necessity; power reliability has become increasingly prized to deliver electricity for the first time in the most remote places of the world.

Generator manufacturers are in a similar position as utilities, and could view the evolution toward DERs like energy storage, renewables, and the digital grid as a threat. Today, however, both utilities and generator manufacturers are realizing the value of new partnerships, collaborations, and even acquisitions in the DER space. Both generator manufacturers and utilities are exploring new opportunities within the DER landscape, shifting focus from the assets themselves to creative strategies and new business models that can stack value.

Fairbanks Morse is an example of a generator OEM player transitioning into a hybrid, open platform cloud-based approach. The 125-year old USA-based manufacturer has launched a new, updated version of its opposed piston engine technology called Trident OP™, with the PoweReliability-as-a-Service platform, claiming best-in-class fuel efficiency and 30% fewer parts over conventional four-stroke engines for better reliability and lower overall lifecycle costs.

The Fairbanks Morse PoweReliability-as-a-Service platform delivers distributed power generation for independent power producers or large C&I organizations. Backed by fuel efficiency and reliability performance level guarantees that are monitored in the cloud-based platform, it is designed to reduce the risk and OPEX for end users who want to generate their own power—whether grid-tied, or remote and offgrid.

As this revolutionary platform is being launched in Africa this year, Kimberly Getgen, vice president of strategic marketing at Fairbanks Morse, explained that this first-of-its-kind solution, “enables our customers to become reliable independent power producers – even in the most remote areas of the world that do not have access to a dependable grid, because we believe that with the electricity it generates PoweReliability-as-a-Service can empower economic growth, and give access to clean water, healthcare, and community safety.”

The PoweReliability-as-a-Service platform is enabled by cloud-based bi-directional data and controls so that power generation can be monitored in real time to deliver on specified fuel and reliability guarantees. As an open platform, it can be customised to include the integration of hybrid DER such as renewable base loads like solar, wind, combined heat and power (CHP), and energy storage to facilitate particular use cases.

Combining the launch of the ground-breaking Trident OP engine with the PoweReliability-as-a-Service platform, Getgen clarified, is the next evolution in Fairbanks Morse’s long history of providing affordable and reliable distributed power generation globally. “This platform-based approach will not only allow us to accelerate our corporate mission to deliver power where it is needed most, but also transform the way electricity is produced and consumed in Africa, resulting in an emerging grid that is cleaner, more distributed, and increasingly intelligent.”

For over 125 years, Fairbanks Morse has been powering the world forward with innovative distributed power generation solutions that deliver optimal performance in a wide range of applications from base load and standby in municipal, nuclear, and institutional facilities to locomotive engines, and naval and commercial-class ship propulsion and shipboard power. Reliable and dependable, their flagship Opposed Piston (OP) engine technology has been trusted for decades and has totalled over 100 million operating hours – many units with over 40 years of service.

By offering guarantees over a long term, Fairbanks Morse envisions its PoweReliability-as-a-Service contract as not only enabling customers to determine their generation, emissions, and reliability requirements, based on the specific needs of each specific site, but also give independent power producers and C&I end customers the ability to integrate the DERs of their choosing to operate fully as an independent microgrid or, where available, participate in ancillary market services ,such as demand response.

As we continue to create intelligent partnerships and channel opportunities in Africa, Getgen emphasised, we will always endeavour to design and build innovative engines that become the industry standard while advancing the technology of power solutions in directions that others are still attempting to imitate. Furthermore, our successful mission continues, providing our customers with the highest quality diesel engines and generator sets, dual-fuel engine generator sets, and OEM parts — and we back them all with world-class field service support, as well as factory direct diesel engine repair and maintenance training programs.

The global energy revolution is underway and a seismic shift is occurring from the centralized one-way model of the past to a distributed, efficient, and intelligent power system of the future. Therefore, new platform-based business models can help to de-risk investment in onsite power generation among a greater number of end users in both developed and emerging economies. At the same time, these models offer potential for new revenue streams for the C&I customer in particular—both now, and in the future as ancillary services markets evolve. Increasingly, the specific DER technologies become less important in this brave new world relative to the value they are able to extract from these expanding revenue streams.