Clean heat and power technologies (CHP, waste energy recovery technologies, biofuels) have a variety of commercial and societal benefits. Clean heat and power technologies offer improved environmental quality, reduced energy consumption, and improved grid reliability.
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Emissions of carbon dioxide and air pollutants like nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and volatile organic particles can be substantially reduced with CHP.
- Energy production is a major source of pollution. In the same way that it saves fuel cost, CHP reduces pollution by using the fuel’s energy twice or three times, yielding half to a third of the emissions from separate applications.
- According to the U.S. Department of Energy, CHP systems could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 million tons of carbon if the Agency’s goal to double US installed capacity by 2010 had been met.
- New power plants have major environmental impacts. CHP plants are small and usually sited unobtrusively inside existing buildings and plants, without offending neighbors.
- Currently, power plants are responsible for two-thirds of the nation’s annual sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, one-quarter of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, one-third of the mercury (Hg) emissions, and one-third of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a leading greenhouse gas. These emissions contribute to serious environmental problems, including global climate change, acid rain, haze, acidification of waterways, and eutrophication of critical estuaries. These same emissions contribute to numerous health problems, such as chronic bronchitis and aggravation of asthma, particularly in children.
- CHP systems can be especially useful in areas of the country where development is constrained due to poor air quality problems. This is particularly significant in older, industrial cities like Chicago. In air emission zones in California, the Northeast, and Midwest, new development can create the need for emissions offsets. CHP systems can meet this requirement, especially when using output-based emission standards that capture these system’s high fuel efficiencies.
- CHP can also improve indoor environmental quality (IEQ). US buildings consume at least 30-50% more energy than necessary to provide adequate IEQ. However, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems often do not provide sufficient humidity control or meet a building’s need for outside air. In combination with a dessicant dehumidifier CHP systems can provide better humidity control than conventional systems, and reduce the potential for mold and bacteria growth. When combined with CHP systems, absorption chillers reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
CHP is a virtually ideal form of energy from an energy security point of view:
- CHP facilities are relatively small and distributed widely.
- They do not offer a high-profile target to potential terrorists.
- Their locations in industrial, commercial, residential, and district energy facilities of many sorts mean they are not physically isolated and vulnerable, but instead share the security implicit in their host facilities.
- Their locations at the point of need eliminate their vulnerability to a disruption of the transmission system, and indeed create the ability to provide emergency power downstream of such a disruption.
- They are independently fueled and operated. While they can be centrally dispatched, they can also be operated independently in the event of a disruption to central systems.
- Most CHP systems utilize natural gas from secure sources, rather than imported petroleum, but they can also be operated on wood wastes, coal, or other secure fuels.
- The efficiency of CHP has a security benefit, since vulnerability to fuel interruptions is proportionate to fuel consumption.
- Distributed energy resources like CHP reduce electricity infrastructure vulnerability. CHP installations dispersed across the US together with defensible major facilities, are less vulnerable than central power plants to disruption. CHP also generally uses secure natural gas or other domestic fuels.
- CHP can increase the reliability of a building’s power supply – a substantial advantage in today’s changing electricity market and high-tech society. A highly reliable power supply is vital to some companies’ computing, manufacturing, and research functions. CHP can provide the fabled “6 nines” of power reliability to the digital economy, as well as provide cooling to high-tech equipment. The computer chips that operate industrial processes, telecommunications, Internet communications, and financial transactions can withstand only 8 milliseconds of power loss before losing memory.
- Facilities like data centers – the buildings stacked with servers and switches that power the digital economy – require 6 nines, or 99.9999%, probability that power will not be interrupted. The electric grid provides only 4 nines, or 99.99%, probability – insufficient reliability for a company that loses a million dollars a minute when the power goes out. Distributed energy can avert tremendous financial losses by providing primary and secondary power on-site and using the grid for backup, according to Tom Casten in Transforming Electricity.
“The inevitable heat from most electric generation that is not currently used could supply as much as half of the nation’s thermal energy needs,” says Tina Kaarsberg in a Northeast-Midwest Institute report. “Such waste heat, therefore, is an important, if often overlooked, ‘zero-emissions fuel.'”
- Recovering thermal energy, or capturing the waste heat, puts all fuel types in a more favorable environmental light. Although different fuels have different emission characteristics independent of technology, according to Dr. Kaarsberg, “nearly every on-site technology can be roughly twice as clean with heat recovery in a combined heat and power (CHP) configuration.”
- The Thermally Activated Technologies (TAT) Program is one of the DOE Distributed Energy’s programs that focus on the thermal energy recovery aspect of CHP and ways to even further improve efficiency. TAT finds that:
- In the year 2020, 5% of all energy consumed in the United States will be recycled thermal energy.
- Thermal energy recycling is the largest opportunity for reducing energy consumption. American industry needs to accelerate the development of TAT to meet the energy and economic challenges of the future.
- TAT are critical to ensuring indoor environmental security and reducing air pollution. American industry needs to accelerate the development of desiccant ventilation air technologies as a health and protection measure.
- Direct fuel-based and recycled energy-based TAT are the focus of a new public/private partnership roadmap. Leapfrog materials, design, and control technologies are essential elements of this accelerated research, testing, and verification roadmap.
- Cooling and dehumidification can occur when waste heat powers absorption chillers and desiccant dehumidifiers.
CHP offers a superb mechanism for Economic Stimulus:
- High energy costs and inadequate energy systems are a key part of the reason the economy has lost its forward momentum. Because of their implicit efficiency, CHP investments deal effectively with nagging energy cost problems for industrial plants, commercial businesses, institutions, and large residential facilities.
- Inadequate power supply, particularly in California, was a major factor in slowing economic growth. Our fully electrified economy requires incremental power supply as it grows. CHP plants can come on faster, in smaller more flexible increments, with direct linkage between the generation and the consumption, to meet the power supply needs that always accompany economic growth.
- Our economy is driven by market competition, and works best where competition is most vigorous. The proliferation of CHP systems has the potential to bring new and vigorous competition into the electric power sector and thermal energy sectors alike.
- Much CHP equipment and expertise is of domestic U.S. origin, promising to focus the economic benefits at home.
- CHP systems can help avoid needless and economically inefficient investment in new transmission capacity, as well the waste of the transmission line losses of power, because of their location at the site of the demand.
- Only distributed power such as CHP can meet the reliability needs of the computerized 21st century. As we reinvigorate the economy, we must be sure to do it in accordance with the new century’s “specs”, not the last century’s.
- At times of economic downturn, it is tempting to diminish attention to environmental values, but with CHP systems we can achieve optimized energy economics and minimized energy emissions at the same time, as the EPA has recognized.
- CHP saves fuel/energy costs – getting up to 2-3 times the useful energy products from the fuel, users could effectively cut fuel costs by up to two thirds and provides affordable cooling and dehumidification.
- CHP optimizes natural gas use – using gas for power generation and thermal purposes together, rather than separately, CHP reduces gas costs, gas infrastructure requirements, and gas resource concerns.
- CHP reduces T&D constraints – because CHP is sited at the load, it is downstream from constraints on transmission and distribution lines, easing constraints and freeing capacity.
- CHP reduces need for new transmission lines – avoids the need to build costly, hazardous new high-voltage lines over landowner, environmental opposition. A distributed energy future would save $136 billion of capital investment and reduce the cost of new power by about three cents per kW,” says Tom Casten. With CHP systems located at or near its point of use, line losses are eliminated. This ranges from 5% to as much as 20% (during peak periods) of conventional power lost to transmission resistance, compared to none for CHP.
- CHP increases competition -New CHP installations add many competitive players to the power market, for whom power is a byproduct, so they do not “game” the market.