The Costs, Air Quality, and Human Health Effects of Meeting Peak Electricity Demand with Installed Backup Generators

Date of Original Version




Abstract or Description

Existing generators installed for backup during blackouts could be operated during periods of peak electricity demand, increasing grid reliability and supporting electricity delivery. Many generators, however, have non-negligible air emissions and may potentially damage air quality and harm human health. To evaluate using these generators, we compare the levelized private and social (health) costs of diesel internal combustion engines (ICE) with and without diesel particulate filters (DPF), natural gas ICEs, and microturbines to a new peaking plant in New York, NY. To estimate the social cost, first we calculate the upper range emissions for each generator option from producing 36 000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity over 3 days. We then convert the emissions into ambient concentrations with a 3-D chemical transport model, PMCAMx, and Gaussian dispersion plumes. Using a Monte Carlo approach to incorporate the uncertainties, we calculate the health endpoints using concentration−response functions and multiply the response by its economic value. While uncontrolled diesel ICEs would harm air quality and health, a generator with a DPF has a social cost, comparable to natural gas options. We conclude on a full cost basis that backup generators, including controlled diesel ICEs, are a cost-effective method of meeting peak demand.




Published In

Environ. Sci. Technol, 40, 22, 6887-6893.