Skip navigation to main content.
NREL - National Renewable Energy Laboratory
About NRELEnergy AnalysisScience and TechnologyTechnology TransferTechnology DeploymentEnergy Systems Integration

Distributed Energy Story - Text Version

[Upbeat music plays as "beams" from a sun in the lower left corner spin behind the letters "DER". Then the letters move into a vertical configuration, and "Distributed Energy Resources" appears on the screen. This scene then fades out to show a cartoon map of the United States with clumps of buildings representing different cities spread throughout the map. All the cities are connected by a series of red power lines. The lights in the different cities, and the power lines connecting the cities, take turns flashing on and off to show that the power is unreliable. Some text from the script appears as the script is spoken.]

Spoken script: The nation's electricity delivery system is straining to meet the escalating demand for power. Consumers in some regions are facing periodic rolling blackouts, and businesses throughout the country are not getting the reliable, high-quality power they need. There are two problems at the root of the current power crunch. First, there is insufficient generating capacity to meet peak electricity demand in some parts of the country, such as California. Second, the existing power transmission and distribution grid is aging and cannot carry all of the electricity needed by consumers.

[Scene changes to a cartoon of a calendar, where months are flying by. Dollar signs rise and disappear out of a cartoon power plant, which grows to fill the screen, then shrinks and disappears.]

Spoken script: But high-voltage transmission lines are costly to build and replace. And the permitting and construction of large, central power plants is also very expensive and can take years to implement.

[Cartoon map of United States appears again, with sunbeams rotating clockwise behind it. Yellow DER logos drop out of the sky onto the map, and the lights come on in those cities to show that the DER solution has been implemented.]

Spoken script: The solution? … Distributed energy resources, or DER. DER means using smaller power generators, energy storage devices, and energy efficiency measures throughout the electricity distribution grid to improve its reliability. Installing DER at or near the point of energy use reduces the demand on central power plants and can avoid the need to upgrade transmission and distribution lines to handle additional power requirements. ... Distributed generation is highly flexible -- small, modular generators can be added in increments as the demand for power grows. And, as they typically rely on natural gas or renewable resources instead of coal, distributed generators can also be quieter and less polluting than large power plants, making them suitable for on-site installation.

[A series of DER technology photographs scroll horizontally across the screen; stops on a photograph of a fuel cell.]

Spoken script: Most distributed power generators — including fuel cells and microturbines — run on natural gas, the cleanest fossil-fuel technology. In areas where natural gas is available through pipelines, gas-fueled generators can produce electricity whenever it is needed.

[DER technology photos again scroll horizontally across the screen; stops on a photograph of utility-scale photovoltaic panels.]

Spoken script: Some distributed generators use renewable resources like the sun and wind to produce electricity. Renewable energy is the cleanest generating technology of all, but many systems produce electricity only intermittently -- when the wind blows or the sun shines. It also provides fuel diversity benefits and, in the case of solar and wind power, zero costs for fuel.

[DER technology photos again scroll horizontally across the screen; stops on a photograph of a generator.]

Spoken script: Other distributed power plants use a combination of renewable- and fossil-fuel-driven generators, such as wind or solar systems together with a diesel generator. Such hybrid power systems compensate for the intermittency of renewable resources by using the fossil-fuel generator for backup power.

[DER technology photos again scroll horizontally across the screen; stops on a photograph of another generator.]

Spoken script: Combined heat & power systems make the most efficient use of energy resources. Such systems, which make productive use of the heat generated during the production of electricity, operate at 70%-80% efficiency, compared to the roughly 30% efficiency achieved by power-generating systems alone.

[DER technology photos again scroll horizontally across the screen; stops on a photograph of batteries.]

Spoken script: Energy storage devices — primarily lead-acid batteries — are used for load following and as an instantly available backup power supply. They can be used to overcome the intermittency of wind and solar energy resources, and also make it possible to use electricity produced during periods of low demand, such as during the night, to meet peak daytime demands.

[DER technology photos again scroll horizontally across the screen; stops on a photograph of a wind farm with a substation in the foreground.]

Spoken script: DER also requires the safe and reliable integration of energy generation and storage systems with each other and with the electricity grid. Related technologies include specialized devices for connecting small generating plants to the power grid, and for controlling the operation of electrical generators and equipment. [DER technology photos again scroll horizontally across the screen; stops on a photograph of an energy-smart building.]

Spoken script: Another way to ease the burden on the power grid is to reduce the overall demand for electricity by using various pricing strategies and load reduction technologies. These include real-time pricing, demand-side bidding, on-site generation, thermally activated cooling, and passive solar building designs as well as devices such as energy-efficient light bulbs, geothermal heat pumps, and solar hot water systems.

[Four photographs of people representing the industrial, commercial, institutional, and residential sectors fly in.]

Spoken script: Greater adoption of DER technologies benefits the industrial, commercial, institutional, and residential sectors of the economy by providing reliable, high-quality electrical power for all.

[Goes back to the first scene of the animation, with the rotating rays and the DER logo.]

Spoken script: DER . . . the power of choice.