Combined Heat and Power systems gain steam in race for renewable solutions
How does CHP technology stack up against solar and wind systems?
Aegis Energy Services, Inc has been advocating for green energy solutions since its founding in 1985, promoting the use of Combined Heat and Power systems, also known as CHP or cogeneration as a way to create energy efficiency and reduce the carbon footprint.
CHP is the simultaneous production of electricity and heat from a single fuel source. The technology isn’t exactly new. Cogeneration was at the core of the world’s first commercial power plant, designed by Thomas Edison in 1882 to provide heat and electricity to Lower Manhattan.
The EPA recognizes CHP as a green technology because by capturing and utilizing heat that would otherwise be wasted from the production of electricity, CHP systems require less fuel than equivalent separate heat and power systems to produce the same amount of energy.
Because less fuel is combusted, greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as criteria air pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), are reduced.
While stalwarts like solar and wind, and to a lesser extent hydro, seem to be the darling of the green energy sector, pulling in headlines, federal and state subsidies, and celebrity endorsements, Combined Heat and Power is turning out to be “the little engine that could” in the race for renewable energy solutions.
So just how does this technology stand up against other renewable sources as the race to reduce energy costs heats up?
All of the renewable sources of energy have benefits and drawbacks. Hydropower will typically offer the lowest cost per watt hour but for obvious reasons may not be viable in many locations because of the lack of resources, namely, moving water. Also, initial costs could be prohibitive due to the moving of dirt or dam-building.
Wind power also offers a low cost per watt hour but is also heavily reliant on location. Towering can be expensive and in many cases there are entire organizations that sprout up to fight against wind turbines for aesthetic reasons.
Solar power can be used almost anywhere and the low-maintenance systems enjoy long life-spans with fairly predictable outputs. There are no moving parts and the operation of solar panels is silent and unobtrusive.
Comparatively, wind energy typically lacks the density of solar radiation, requiring large numbers of turbines to generate useful amounts of heat or electricity. However, solar is intermittent (overcast days, nighttime) and large-scale projects require supplemental energy supplies. Both wind and solar energy do not have the ability to store excess energy when not needed.
Although some may not consider Combined Heat and Power as “green” as wind or solar because it uses clean natural gas to create energy sources, it is a very real solution for reducing green house gas emissions and significantly reducing energy costs. Also, Combined Heat and Power has several advantages over these renewable sources.
The average capacity factor is higher for CHP than solar or wind because it isn’t intermittent. The annual amount of electricity generated is higher and the amount of space a modular, on-site system takes up is smaller than the wind turbines or solar panels needed to generate similar savings.
CHP can also be a great partner for other renewable energy sources. By combining CHP systems with solar or wind sources, a buffer is provided by the cogeneration unit which allows for constant, reliable energy to be generated in the event that solar or wind is not providing sufficient energy given the intermittent nature of the source.
A recent New York Times article states “of all the types of energy embraced by the green community, Combined Heat and Power probably has the clunkiest name.” While that may be true (and the article does go on to endorse the technology), CHP systems like the ones pioneered by Aegis Energy Systems, Inc., may provide the most cost-effective and efficient way to take part in the green energy initiative.