Capstone chief confident company is well-placed for decarbonisation trend

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The President and CEO of Capstone Turbine, the world’s leading manufacturer of low-emission microturbine systems, sees a lot of reason for optimism in the company’s future as the trend towards decarbonisation gathers pace.

Darren Jamison spoke to COSPP this week about why he believes Capstone continues to be ideally placed for growth. He also referred to the unique difficulty the company has in lobbying for attention to be given to its unique product.
Darren Jamison
The microturbine technology produced by the Southern California-headquartered firm is becoming increasingly relevant as a source of clean energy and a way for businesses to both lower their operating costs and reduce emissions.

The company currently has 112 patents for such components as recuperators and combustion controls and is generally recognised as being unmatched in the area of air bearing technology.

“We focus on distributed generation at a sub 5 MW level. We have a technology that is flexible and reasonably priced compared to other technologies, and we don’t need heavy government incentives to make the economics work in most environments,” says Jamison.

“Customers don’t have to spend time changing oil, spark plugs, belts, hoses and all the maintenance that comes with owning energy systems that are a concert of parts. When it comes to energy distribution, customers want something that is as plug-and-play as possible and I think we fit that niche.”

20 to 30 percent growth rates have been recorded annually with the firm since 2006. Capstone has sold over 8,600 units in 73 countries and currently has a pipeline of identified projects in the range of $1.5bn.


Recent global policy developments favouring technologies that can help towards decarbonisation have helped growth but it hasn’t been all plain sailing with one of the company’s major markets – oil and gas – suffering a significant decline. Though, the company’s power generation capacity across multiple industries has helped to offset the fallout somewhat.

“Our biggest market historically has been oil and gas but that is now experiencing a global slowdown. Our CHP and distributed generation business, however, continues to grow throughout the world, whether in the US, EU, Mexico, Latin America, Middle East or Africa. In Australia we have done almost more business in our current quarter than in all of last year.”

A greater emphasis by policy makers in getting the world’s cities and megacities to reduce emissions has worked out well for the company but they are innovating to build even greater efficiencies and increase the pace of CHP adoption.

“We are continually making greater changes to our products to make them more CHP-friendly – for example we are placing integrated heat recovery on board so that you don’t have to site this equipment elsewhere. We work with absorption chiller and air conditioning manufacturers in that respect to deliver products that are smaller yet more effective.

“Our total system is capable of reaching 85 to 90 percent efficiency when the waste heat generated is captured through heat recovery.”


Despite the apparent advantages of the offerings in hand, Capstone sometimes struggles to have its voice heard above the din of other technologies claiming to contribute to a cleaner energy world. They have been, as Jamison seems to acknowledge, a victim of their own success.

Capstone is by far the biggest operator in the space it occupies and the prospect of a grand coalition collectively shouting the merits of the microturbine are currently remote.

“Patents are wonderful and blocking competition is a very positional business tactic. We possess 80 percent of the market share being first to market roughly 20 years ago. The negative thing about it is that when you try to compete with wind and solar, fuel cells and other technologies, we are one voice because we limited everyone else’s access to the market. We don’t have an industry voice to inform legislators or educate customers so we are smaller because of that.”

  Jamison says he is glad for the company to compete in the battle to help cities reduce their carbon footprint but believes that technologies need to compete on a level playing field, something that is often not the case.

  Rather than offering large tax credits to favoured technologies he advocates the government resisting the temptation to pick winners and should instead move towards broad goals, allowing technologies to complete on a level playing field to achieve those goals.

  Jamison believes the scene will continue to evolve positively as more efficiency legislation comes on stream and in Europe the portfolio of projects to its credit includes
breweries, wineries, industrial applications, landfills, wastewater treatment plants and hospitals.

  There were a large number of projects in Germany alone in the last quarter and Jamison doesn’t see why that growth in demand for what they do should change any time soon.

“There shouldn’t be a hospital, hotel or industrial building with a thermal or electrical load in an urban environment anywhere that isn’t using our product.”

“Natural gas prices are low worldwide. Utility rates are going up and a lot of governments are trying to reduce subsidies.”

“From the macro perspective, by providing cheap input fuel – offsetting very expensive utility power – and by providing thermal energy to customers, we can offset boiler and chiller load – so that the economics work in more places around the world and are only getting better.”

“If we educate architects and engineers as to what you can see happening in New York for example. Related Properties is one of our biggest customers in New York City. Most of the new properties they are building in New York City utilizes our technology – instead of putting in a standard boiler and chiller you put in a microturbine on a hot water loop and make air conditioning or heat depending on the time of year.”

Jamison puts it in clearer terms.

“If you can make energy at 85 percent efficiency economically on your site behind the meter while improving your carbon footprint why would you buy more expensive energy from the utility who are most likely going to continue to raise your price every year? We’re making energy at lower costs and at lower emissions levels than utilities in most cases.”

“We think that as microturbines become mainstream and CHP become standard tools of architects and engineers and as efficiency regulations continue to tighten around the world, we will be in a even better place.

“As we are based in California, we meet the lowest emissions standards in the world, and without a catalytic converter for natural gas, diesel or other fuels.

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