Combined Heat and Power as a Sustainable Heating Solution
August 25, 2015 | Jim Pretz, Managing Principal & CEO
Today, many industries and organizations like universities are burning coal to produce steam for their campuses and other organizations. Increasingly, institutions with older heating systems are seeking to replace those systems with cleaner and more cost-effective alternatives.
Searching for new solutions
Take Ohio. Many of the state’s public universities have signed on to an initiative that will eliminate their use of coal by 2020.
One alternative is to replace these facilities’ coal boilers with gas boilers. But this takes a sizeable investment; if an organization is going to make such a significant investment, it may be better served by leveraging the efficiency and cost effectiveness of Combined Heat and Power. Indeed, this kind of major infrastructural change offers an important opportunity: the return on investment for CHP will be favorable not only due to the energy savings provided by cogeneration but because only the incremental investment in CHP over and above the amount that would be spent anyway on new boilers needs to be considered in the ROI calculation.
Furthermore, a CHP burns fuel with exceptional efficiency. A utility typically burns coal at about 30% efficiency to produce electricity — meaning that they’re utilizing well under half of the coal’s available energy. But when producing electricity by burning natural gas, an inherently cleaner burning fuel, a CHP installation can operate with an overall efficiency of around 80 to 85% — a truly dramatic difference. This creates a fortuitous circumstance wherein sustainability and cost-efficiency are in agreement. As a result, an institution’s net CO2 and other pollutants may be significantly reduced.
Staying in charge
Just as CHP helps improve reliability by consolidating your control over your own energy assets, it helps put the sustainability of your energy solution in your hands. You may not be able to control the fuels used by a utility, or how efficiently it is burned. But by controlling and coordinating your heat and power, you can ensure that you are using your fuel as efficiently as possible and reduce or eliminate your dependence on the utility.
And while regulations may fluctuate, by taking your heat and power into your own hands, your organization will be better prepared to ensure regulatory compliance — and deal with marketplace disruptions — in the future.