By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Diesel Generators Offer Viable Option During California Wildfires

As California’s Energy Commission, Air Resources Board and Public Utilities Commission policy leaders gather to assess technology solutions for ensuring reliable electricity supply during wildfire season planned safety power shutoffs (PSPS) events, priority should be given to maintaining polices that enable a wide range of options, including diesel generators, that balance concerns of environmental impacts with technology availability and performance, according to the Diesel Technology Forum.

“As a result of the unprecedented wildfire and summer heat events of 2020, diesel technology played a central role in mitigating negative impacts from PSPS. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) was granted the authority to rely on a large fleet of mobile diesel backup generators to provide sub-station level power during power safety shutoff events that deenergized portions of the electricity grid to many communities. As a result, the use of these diesel generators provided power to many communities. The event report published by PG&E shows that their reliance on diesel technology was able to keep power flowing to more than 7,400 customers while also providing backup power to intensive care units in hospitals in Napa, Tuolumne, Shasta and Nevada counties,” said Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a not-for-profit association representing manufacturers of diesel engines and equipment, key suppliers of emissions control and other technologies, and fuel producers.

“Prohibiting the use of diesel backup generators would have resulted in power shutoffs to these communities as reliable and ready-to-go alternatives were not available. While being mindful of potential emissions impacts from these short-term uses, they can only be viewed in the greater context of preserving public health and safety of not having power. The small short-term incremental increase in emissions from the diesel unit’s operation would be vastly overshadowed by emissions from the wildfires themselves or potentially the use of hundreds or smaller less-regulated home-size generator units that might be used instead,” added Schaeffer. “When it comes to providing mission critical backup power, there is no room for error or experimentation when responding to crisis situations and the need to protect public health and safety. Diesel’s unique combination of power density, energy efficiency, durability, portability, availability of fueling and servicing, and reliability make it the technology of choice in these situations. The latest near-zero emissions diesel solutions and advanced biofuels can deliver these benefits at lower cost and with big environmental benefits. With benefits like these, California policymakers should retain diesel as an available option for use in PSPS indefinitely.”

At this moment, the importance of proven fuels and technologies like diesel could not be clearer, according to Diesel Technology Forum officials, who added that “It’s hard to understand why regulators want to take away viable options and choices for power consumers in California, which are misguided and will only hurt California businesses, leaving them with fewer, less proven, less available and more expensive options, that also put near-term climate and clean air goals further out of reach, especially during the Pandemic.”

Currently, officials pointed out, the capabilities and availability of renewable sources of backup power are few, and those that are available are limited by either their size, access to pipeline natural gas, high acquisition price, lengthy permitting timetables or other barriers. While a few localities that are able to incorporate these solutions may choose to do so, those municipalities, regions and critical facilities like health centers that are not able to incorporate renewable sources of backup generators should not be precluded from relying on diesel technology to provide mission critical power.

“Diesel is the gold standard for emergency backup electrical power for many reasons. Other options cannot today provide the same ready-to-go power on demand within seconds of an outage, can be sized for any location, deployed, maintained and supported at any location, maintain continuous operation while delivering performance and durability of diesel coupled with near-zero emissions performance of the latest diesel innovations and the ultra-low carbon benefits of advanced biofuels,” Schaeffer said. “In many instances, diesel generators are often deployed as part of sustainable microgrid installations to generate critical power when renewables are off-line and battery storage is depleted. Efforts to prohibit diesel technology as a source of backup power could jeopardize the success of sustainable microgrid applications to generate zero-emissions critical power when needed at low cost. Communities and businesses across California are considering sustainable microgrids to harness the power of wind, solar and battery backup and diesel technology is often a source of critical power when these alternatives are depleted.

“As CARB, the CEC and the CPUC are aware, emissions from diesel generators can be dramatically reduced through the use of the most current generation emissions technology and the use of renewable biodiesel fuels. Over 600,000 gallons of renewable diesel fuel has been procured by PG&E to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the large fleet of diesel generators deployed by PG&E in 2020. Other utilities in neighboring states report additional benefits when switching to renewable diesel fuel in large backup diesel generators.”

Diesel engines large and small, old and new, can operate on advanced biofuels including high quality blends of biodiesel and renewable diesel fuel. According to the California Energy Commission, between 2011 and 2019 diesel engines using biodiesel and renewable diesel fuels contributed more GHG reductions than all electric vehicles combined. Advanced biofuels including biodiesel and renewable diesel fuels reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent while renewable diesel fuel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 percent.

The Diesel Technology Forum is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of diesel engines, fuel, and technology. Members of the Diesel Technology Forum are the leaders in advanced technology engines, vehicles, fuels, and equipment, both diesel and a range of alternative fuels, including electrification, hydrogen, natural gas, and others. For more information visit