Efficient cogeneration units produce electricity as well as heat
On the 15th story of a Manhattan high-rise, a humming, room-sized box sits on a ledge. Inside, two roaring 16-piston engines fueled by natural gas generate both heat and electricity for the building. According to experts, combined-heat-and-power (CHP) generators like these will play a critical role in the future energy landscape of New York, the United States, and perhaps the world.
The principle of CHP is to bring the power plant home. Energy that escapes up the smokestack as waste heat at a remote power plant can, when generation occurs nearby, heat (and cool) a skyscraper or a home. CHP nearly doubles the efficiency of separately generated heat and electricity, saving money, fuel, and the planet.
"It's a win-win-win in many ways," says Peter Falcier, a senior analyst at Endurant Energy, whose team developed and now manages the generators. "We're trying to do this in as many buildings as we can." [Editor's note: .]
After a 30-year lull (CHP raised interest during the last major spike in fuel prices), it's making a comeback in New York City. Forty percent of the city's 135 units went in during the past five years, according to recent study. CEOs and co-op boards alike are looking for ways to use less fuel. Businesses, which can lose millions when computer systems go down in blackouts, increasingly see a local power source as a necessity. And as electrical demand may outstrip supply in the city soon, state and city agencies have incentivized CHP.
For at least one economist, capturing energy that would otherwise be wasted represents the belated arrival of common sense. With worry over greenhouse gases mounting, inefficiency is the "elephant in the room," says Tom Casten, chairman of Recycled Energy Development in Westmont, Ill. By his count, the nation could save $70 billion simply by harnessing the heat now going out its collective smokestacks. "We can't afford not to change it," he says. "Without a doubt, this is the cheapest power you can make."
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