How a Cogeneration Plant Enhances System Reliability and Resiliency

August 22, 2015  |  Jamie Landers, Electrical & Controls Engineer

Cogeneration allows institutions to simplify their energy needs, burning natural gas to provide both heat and power. Some owners might wonder: what if there is a gas line disruption or a gas curtailment? Could this create a single point of failure for the entire system?

In fact, the opposite is true: Combined Heat and Power can help institutions improve the resiliency of their systems and become more self-reliant in the case of catastrophes. The reliability and redundancy afforded by CHP can provide uninterrupted power and bumpless transfers between power sources in order to keep systems online, avoid data loss, and prevent damage to critical equipment.

Contingency plans

In most cases, a cogeneration plant has 100% redundant electrical power systems, meaning that it can be fed by either the local utility grid or on-site standby generators.

In practical terms, this allows your facilities to stay powered up, even if they experience total failures of either the utility grid or your on-site generation. You can also maintain power in the case of partial failures on the part of both systems. This functionality draws in part on the plant’s utility interconnection — it is connected to the utility in such a way that if the local system fails, the utility will immediately pick up the loss.

Your backup measures aren’t limited to the utility, either: depending on the design of your onsite generation and fuel storage, you can store fuel such as oil for use in the event of a gas line failure.

Adapting to disruptions

Of course, it’s not enough for your system to be able to draw on alternative power sources. It must also be designed to start back up after a failure, and to function correctly if a long term utility grid disruption occurs.

This is where two essential CHP capabilities come in:

  • Black start If the grid goes down and your CHP goes down as well, “black start” capability allows you to start the CHP plant independently — without relying on the utility.
  • Island mode In the event of a major grid failure or other power disruption, “island mode” enables the CHP to function completely independently.

If your institution is located in an area that is at risk of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, floods, or earthquakes, engineering these capabilities into your CHP installation can confer heightened resiliency to your system — and keep the power on even during serious crises.

During Hurricane Sandy, one CHP-powered facility maintained power for the duration of the lengthy utility outage, enabling the organization to serve its community in the aftermath of the storm. For universities, hospitals, or factories, this opportunity to shore up energy security can make a powerful difference, keeping the system running even when utility stations are damaged or power lines fall.

Controlling the assets

For reliability, one of the key advantages of Combined Heat and Power is its scale — specifically, the scale on which you distribute your power. Because your distribution area is limited to your own institution, you have much less distribution infrastructure to manage and maintain.

For facilities owners, this represents a major edge when it comes to keeping your system up and running. Since you control all of the relevant assets, you can make and implement your own contingency plans, without banking on (or waiting for) action from a utility. In addition to system reliability and resiliency, CHP enhances your capacity for self-reliance.

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  1. Georgia says:

    Great blog! It’s great to see that cogeneration plants are growing in popularity – especially as they are such a great bit of kit!

    As manufacturers we see different benefits too – so it was great to read about the benefits for Facilities Managers too

    I wrote something similar here: http://www.hoval.co.uk/blog/com/cogeneration-units-efficient-energy-production-for-buildings-and-heating-networks

    September 14, 2016