Wasted Opportunities

Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

From PPSL District Energy UK - click for more

Guest post by Thomas Fuller

Although I’m a big fan of solar power and think it has a bright future, I must admit that our focus on the Big Three renewable energy sources–solar, wind and biofuels–has been a wasted opportunity, if not a waste of money.

The orientation of our policies to favor the adoption of The Big Three have led to our ignoring proven technologies that could have had an immediate impact and lessened not only our emissions, but reduced our gas bills as well.

The biggest example is with combined heat and power (CHP), also known as cogeneration. Amazingly, this technology that many people have never heard of produces 9% of the world’s primary energy. Here in the States it produces 7% of our energy. But in countries like Finland and Denmark, it produces up to 40% of all energy.

CHP is the simplest idea in the world. A typical power plant producing electricity wastes about 65% of the fuel it burns. CHP plants capture the heat released and put it to good work, heating buildings or even cooling them with the right configuration. It takes the efficiency of the plant from 35% up to as much as 80% in some cases. The very first power plant built in America was a CHP plant, built in New York. Continuing in that tradition, New York’s Con Edison heats 100,000 buildings with district heating powered by CHP.

CHP gets little attention from environmentalists, because it is powered (mostly) by fossil fuels. Most new facilities use natural gas for fuel, but CHP is pretty agnostic about fuel. I say mostly because there are new CHP plants being fueled by wood pellets, which (Ta-da!) makes it renewable.

But we produce less energy today from CHP than we did ten years ago. If we had focused on CHP instead of wind power (which is really starting to annoy me–and a lot of others, I think), and had built our capacity to the level of some Nordic countries, we would already today be close to the level of emission reductions President Obama promised the world we’d reach by 2020. And there’s a whole lot of money we wouldn’t have spent on fuel that we could have spent on other things.

CHP won’t solve all our problems. It is more economically viable in colder regions with expensive energy prices that make the capital investment more attractive, so unless we subsidized it the way we do solar and wind take-up would be slower than ideal. But in the U.S. it is not currently treated like other energy efficiency and renewable energy schemes, with tax breaks and feed-in tariffs and obligated purchases.

So the technology that we know works well, has done wonders in other parts of the world, and could make an immediate difference to our pocketbooks and our emissions is being neglected. While wind turbines are getting more expensive, taking more land and generally turning into a nuisance.

Where are our priorities?

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86 thoughts on “Wasted Opportunities

  1. “which is really starting to annoy me–and a lot of others, I think”
    Don’t even think, there are a LOT of people getting annoyed and growing by the day!

  2. Tom asks: “Where are our priorities?”
        Haven’t you been listening, Tom? Our — or more correctly those who hold the aces of power — priorities are power and profit.
        Should we ever decide our priorities all must rest within the cradle of innovation and efficiency we will surge ahead.
        At that point, bring on CHP — until then, just sigh, and vote…
        Aargh… sure; maybe protest some, too.

  3. Wait 20 years when they have to be replaced or some “cheaper” technology appears.
    Politicians are all big mouths to new technology but when put to the test, they ignore what shoulda or coulda many years later.
    There is superior technology on hold for the big green profits many turbines are more profitable than just a few highly efficient ones.

  4. CHP works economically only with relatively short pipelines (a few kms) because of heat losses and cost of insulation. That results in many more power/heat plants with less economies of scale, but also impact from one brown/black out and possibly less monopolies.
    The Greens are so blinded by their fossil fuel fear that they missed this golden old timer.
    The USSR used CHP a lot: the Western Greenies don’t know this because they never visited the “workers paradise”, they only praised it to heaven for ideological reasons, not practical ones.

  5. “Three renewable energy sources–solar, wind and biofuels–has been a wasted opportunity, if not a waste of money.”
    It is right to ask why there has been an emphasis on those three, and not for example on tidal power, which has the benefit of being highly predictabe in strength and timing, making it particularly suitable for integration with conventional sources.
    However, like biofuels, is is geographically dependent, that is not all countries are in a situation to exploit it, and so it may not benefit from global or supra-national initiatives. The EU concentrates on solar and wind because there is something for all regions. Whereas, the huge tidal and ocean current benefits which could be obtained for the UK have no traction in EU politics. What this demonstrates is that relying on international bodies to seek the best solutions, or to allow essential diversity of approaches is likely to miss many good opportunities, and at best is incomplete in its coverage.
    In the UK towards the end of the eighties, when there was a switchover from coal-fired power stations to natural gas which could be located in population centres, district heating schemes featured prominently in the plans, but have failed to materialise. Possibly because of inertia, or perhaps in the nineties we were distracted by the apparent need to take immediate action to reduce all carbon power sources, so nobody though it worthwhile to invest in gas power beyond electricity generation. Again, another example of clumsy ‘Big Lever’ concensus governmental thinking overruling practical realites.

  6. This approach has been around for more than a century. The challenge is proximity. You can distribute the electricity over a long distance. Not the recovered heat. The large power plant solution only works in a major metro area with a concentrated need for heat and AC. All of those opportunities have been exploited.
    The long term solution is distributed power. Ultimately a unit small enough to support a single home.
    I’m a big supporter of IPower Energy Systems (ipoweres.com). They build relatively small units that run on anything from natural gas to swamp gas (at a landfill). I’m convinced their engineers could run them on shoe polish if needed. To date they are cost competitive down to the level of a small office building. A single home unit may not be too far off.

  7. OT,
    How global warming is aiding – and frustrating – archaeologists.
    From hunting gear to shoes, ancient artefacts once covered by ice are being unearthed in Norway. Now scientists face a race against time to preserve them
    Archaeologists have gained an unexpected benefit from global warming. They have discovered melting ice sheets and glaciers are exposing ancient artefacts that had been covered with thick layers of ice for millennia.
    A perfect example is provided at Juvfonna in Norway, where reindeer hunting gear used by the Vikings’ ancestors has been found littering the ground as the front edge of Juvfonna’s ice sheet has retreated. A section more than 60ft wide has disappeared over the course of 12 months, exposing several hundred artefacts. “It’s like a time machine… the ice has not been this SMALL FOR MANY, MANY CENTURIES says Lars Piloe, the Dane heading a team of “snow patch archaeologists”.
    The discoveries are providing new insights into the behaviour of our ancestors – but they come at a price. So rapid is the rise in global temperatures, and so great is the rate of disintegration of the world’s glaciers, that archaeologists risk losing precious relics freed from the icy tombs. Wood rots in a few years once freed from ice while rarer feathers used on arrows, wool or leather, CRUMBLE TO DUST IN DAYS unless stored in a freezer. As a result, archaeologists are racing against time to find and save these newly exposed wonders.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/26/global-warming-ancient-artefacts
    So the present is the warmest in a thousand years.

  8. Of course, you conveniently forget to mention that those same Nordic countries are also pretty much blanketed in wind turbines. To say that we should look at these clever Scandinavians, who concentrate on real solutions instead of wasting time with windmills, is rather disingenuous at best.
    CHP has plenty of downsides that you cheerfully ignore. For CHP microgeneration, the capital cost is prohibitive for most home-owners and a complete show-stopper for tenants/landlords. For larger scale projects, CHP only works in areas with large, high-density populations adjacent to the power generation facility. This is why it works much better in most of Europe than in the USA. Sure, there are large, high-density populations in the US, like New York City, which… oh, already has CHP.
    CHP is also basically useless in central America, Africa, Australia, South-East Asia etc. where there is not a large need for heating energy.

  9. It’s my understanding cogeneration is profitable already in cold climates – that the payback for plant improvement falls within industry norms, and that in new construction CHP contributes to the bottom line from day one. If that is correct, then what’s called for is a push from Public Service Commissions, and not inducements or subsidies.

  10. This is a pretty inconsistent view on energy. It suggests to be an assessment of alternative energy sources but instead focusses on efficiency rather than alternatives.
    Heat transport in the form of hot water or steam requires extensive investments in infrastructure and the energy bill of the housholds supplied is no longer controllable by them as the fixed cost is dominant in the total bill. Both the energy plant kettle and the heat distribution scaling needs to cover the deep of winter heating requirements whereas the distribution infrastructure will be idle a large portion of the year. It may be a good solution if you want to get some higher value energy (power) when heating is the primary objective (e.g. tropical swimming pool), it is a very poor solution in most other cases. Common sense observation that combined heat power couplings are not popular should have hinted the author to this conclusion.

  11. The real problem with CHP is that it doesn’t provide any clear path to political power. For that reason alone the enviro-left will never be interested. It’s just something those dirty capitalists do.

  12. I wonder why we don’t do this more, Though district heating doesn’t work so great in Russia, many colleges do this. wind is a waste of money and biofuels are questionable, why is so little being done with geothermal?

  13. Just a couple of comments on CHP. Air conditioning systems can be run completely on steam, from the vacuum chiller to the steam coil re-heater and the pumps. As a result, you can use a central steam plant to temperature control buildings, as is done for many large buildings. The challenge is to develop inexpensive systems for smaller commercial buildings and homes.
    Steam can travel very large distances with minmal losses, if the lines are sized correctly. If you think about supplying the buildings in New York, you realize that there are miles of steam lines required to reach all of them. Insulation is important and maintenance of the insulation is also key.
    There are several technologies for converting municipal waste to fuel gas to run turbines with steam generators for efficient CHP systems. These need more attention as they do not produce the pollution issues that come with standard incinerators.
    The real story: There are lots of options but the greens and the media are invested in the pretty, new technoligies, not the real engineering solutions.

  14. If you don’t do CHP, it even heats the environment, since the wasted heat just goes into the atmosphere. I’ve tried to search for papers quantifying this, but haven’t found anything interesting…
    And about wind power, just check out the trailer for “Windfall”. I’ve put it in a post in my blog: http://ecotretas.blogspot.com/2010/09/windfall.html Pretty impressive what small town folks can do against the big ones!
    Ecotretas

  15. As is mentioned, there is a great deal of waste heat in the generation of electricity. If you live in a cold climate and live close to a power plant, there is the opportunity to use this heat to warm houses and and buildings.
    Power plants use as much of this heat as possible to preheat the water for before it is heated in the boilers. What this means is that the temperature of this waste heat is relatively low. This poses the problem of finding uses of the low temperature heat in close proximity of the power plant. The economics of buying the right of ways for the hot water pipes, building and maintaining the pipes, and finding a buyer to pay for it all is usually not practical.
    Where it is, go for it.

  16. I am still curious how the laws of physics get violated by “renewable energy” … It sounds like you are getting something for nothing, the perfect warmist argument, when nothing is farther from the truth.
    If we only switched to renewable ethanol, all would be fine … Blah
    There is no such thing as renewable energy, once the coal is burnt, the wood is burnt, the ethanol burnt, the sunlight is used, the renewable energy has to be made from something, it has to come from somewhere … Energy does not renew. And then the solar panel quits working … or the windmill explodes.
    I have yet to see a cornstalk, once turned into ethanol, renew itself. No one wants to talk production and maintenance costs, it’s as if solar panels grow in the fields, windmills appear from their unicorn masters, and are maintained and kept working by gnomes from the black forests.
    A little tongue and cheek, but don’t get sucked into the myth, that things like batteries recharge magically from the wall socket and require no external energy to do so. Or they are picked from “battery trees” instead of manufacturer in energy consuming factories. It’s an easy trap to fall into, work play …
    Not meant as critical of the author …

  17. Now we have descended to sewage levels!. No need to do it as there is a lot of methane production everywhere, specially at the bottom of the oceans.

  18. Another advantage is air quality, combustion always produces pollutants, smoke and ashes, which are more effectivly taken care of in a CHP plant.

  19. Wind and solar are both a waste of resources given the power return. Biofuel is good for methane generation provided biowaste is used. To tear down rainforest to grow a monoculture of oil palms is a crime against the earth let alone humanity. Any land cleared from forest must be used for food production. The problem with biowaste is that the quantities required may not be available in the right place at the right time for efficient use on a very large scale. Small scale plants are in use now in the UK by enterprising farmers.

  20. One problem with co-generation ironically is a cooling requirement that may consume large amounts of water. In one case that I know of, the option ultimately was rejected because it would have drawn over a third of the aquifer’s normal daily capacity. Local stakeholders felt, perhaps too strongly, that the draw down would threaten other current and projected demands. For co-generation, siting is a crucial factor.

  21. Neil Jones, Nice link re tidal power. You need also to read the telegraph report on Thanet Wind Farm. There are sad similarities. Look at those fan blades. Look at the empty space between them, very inefficient. only the tips really generate power. The tidal “inverted fans” also refers to a gear box, more energy losses.
    These can be so much more efficient but the makers, Corporations for Power and Control are not interested. Most buck for the bang with least effort seems to be their motto.
    There is hope, I have seen designs that generate 100MW from the same footprint as a 1mw wind tower. Now that is really cool.

  22. The discussion should simply be on efficiency. If more efficient energy sources are developed, or if current resources can be used more efficiently, then everybody profits. I’d like to see a market solution to the energy wasting current technologies, if we can stop the (*&@()*& subsidies, we can get there. Co-generation is just one of a number of possibilities. Subsidies distort the market, cause mis-allocation of scarce resources, and burden productive enterprises and individuals. That is the very definition of inefficiency.

  23. Efficiency, yes but who defines it. Look at the picture of the Thanet 3MW wind turbine, cost according to the report 7.8 million each (dollars/pounds?)
    Now it is designed to provide 3 MW, it certainly will not average that. But, say it did, would that make it 100% efficient. I think not.

  24. Alexander Vissers said: “This is a pretty inconsistent view on energy. It suggests to be an assessment of alternative energy sources but instead focusses on efficiency rather than alternatives.”
    Mr Fuller is suggesting that, if CO2 reduction is to be a goal, concentrating on alternative energy supplies that are unreliable and/or not cost effective has been done at the expense of CHP which is reliable and cost effective.
    CHP is a pragmatic means to reduce fossil fuel consumption where electricity is being generated whereas solar and wind are dogmatic attempts at eliminating fossil fuel consumption. The latter attract ample subsidies which is why they are currently the favoured solution.

  25. @Robuk says:
    September 27, 2010 at 5:16 am ‘So the present is the warmest in a thousand years.’
    I’m not entirely clear what point you’re trying to make here, so will make no immediate assumptions. What this report says to me is that it was at least as warm, if not a lot warmer, that millennium ago (or thereabouts) and that the present warming is not unusual over historic time (a concept that Mann et al have desperately tried to cover up).

  26. CHP covers a multitude of technology options, which may or may not be appropriate given individual requirements. In the UK, for micro CHP the Baxi Ecogen’s getting more attractive. That’s a gas powered Stirling engine generating heat and electricity. Cost is a little more than a high efficiency gas boiler, but gives you electricity to use or sell.
    UK has electricity problems with shortages in some areas. If a business is planning to develop, lack of electricity can add considerable delays/costs while the electricity infrastructure’s upgraded. CHP could be more useful in those situations and something our supermarkets and some datacentres are already doing, eg Sainsburys “..have cut energy bills at the Cromwell Road store by £20,000 per annum and CO2 emissions by nearly 2,000 tonnes a year.” And they get hot water and heating from 2x 210KW CHP units, and don’t need expensive standby-generators and diesel storage to protect against grid failure. That saves money and administration given POL storage generates lots of health and safety paperwork rather than useful energy.
    CHP’s getting more popular in London. We have a slight challenge ahead in 2012 with the energy intensive Olympics. Businesses have been told they may face supply disruption. Installing diesel stand-by generators will cost and may not help because there’ll also be a lot of congestion which may delay fuel supplies. CHP systems may make more sense.
    Offices may benefit. They need power, heat, cooling and generate a lot of waste. We have expensive recycling schemes and businesses are charged lots of money to dispose of waste. Even more if it’s sensitive waste that needs secure destruction. Installing a CHP system with incineration may help, especially on a business park if costs/benefits can be shared.
    Larger scale systems, people assume waste heat goes to a district heating network. Why not a collocated greenhouse, or other business that benefits from free/cheap steam or hot water?
    But ‘greens’ seem to hate incineration. Energy must be wasted to sort, collect, transport, sort again and ‘recycle’ into something there’s often no market for. Recovering useful energy by incineration makes more sense. Older incinerators may have been dirty, newer ones are far cleaner and fewer issues with dioxins or furans. But ‘green’ domestic wood burning is probably emitting more of those anyway, especially if people are burning treated wood and domestic waste.

  27. Don’t give up too quickly. Didn’t Churchill say that he had great faith in the Yanks to do the right thing, after first trying all the others?

  28. One of my ancestors helped run the Pearl Street Station, so I was thrilled to read this item. Bear in mind, though, that PSS was not an independent structure. It was built into a block of buildings in NYC, simplifying transmission of heat to other structures.

  29. District heating schemes are old hat, bound by proximity and capital outlay. IMHO a rather more cost effective approach would be domestic heat recovery. There is much focus on insulation levels while air-change losses are overlooked or exacerbated. Example in the UK: Regulations mandating mechanical extraction of kitchens and bathrooms, window trickle ventilation, roof space humidity control, chimneys, etc. to the open air. Much of this is the result of outmoded building technology perpetuated by planning authority criteria and building regulation enforcement.

  30. Cogen is an option, but it’s not the most efficient. For campus loads, it provides great flexibility plus the co generation effort. The problem from my side of the room is the difficulty in producing heating and cooling for comfort conditions for multiple people and applications; unless a good deal of planning is used in the layout and discipline used by the operators, the highest and lowest individual loads dictate the energy requirements of the plant.

  31. Another electrical co-generator that needs a fresh look is magnetohydrodynamic generator. This technology transforms thermal or kinetic energy directly into electricity and can be coupled with fossil or nuclear power generators to increase electrical power generating efficiencies.

  32. NJ Assembly passed a bill to allow the creation of ‘energy co-ops’ by expanding net metering. CHP was specifically exempted. NY allows net metering for CHP but NJ does not. Its so stupid….

  33. The efficiency of electricity production in a CHP plant is usually about 35 %. In a normal condensing power plant in can be as high as 44 to 46 %. This is mainly because the steam used for heating has to be hot enough, usually at least about 80 C. A condensing power plant doesn’t suffer from this limitation.
    By changing to CHP you can save about 25 % of the primary energy. This is a lot, but not as much you could think. The system is working excellent here in Helsinki, where more than 90 % of all buildings is connected to the district heating network:
    Some information:
    http://helen.fi/sljeng/kaukolampo.html
    http://www.energy.rochester.edu/fi/helsinki/
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_heating
    CHP has been BAT-technology (Best Awailable Technology) in the past. The total efficiency can be as high as 85 to 90 %. I can be BAT even today in some cases. About half of all buildings in Finland is heated by district heating. The energy is produced mainly in CHP-plants by coal, peat, natural gas and wood. The energy used for district heating yearly is about 30 TWh.
    In many cases a better way is to use condensing power plants to produce as much electricity as possible and to use heat pumps for heating. This way the total efficiency can be much more than 100 %, and no district heating network is needed.
    David MacKay has a chapter about CHP in his book:
    http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c21/page_145.shtml

  34. JohnL says:
    September 27, 2010 at 5:12 am
    This approach has been around for more than a century. The challenge is proximity. You can distribute the electricity over a long distance. Not the recovered heat. The large power plant solution only works in a major metro area with a concentrated need for heat and AC. All of those opportunities have been exploited.
    The long term solution is distributed power. Ultimately a unit small enough to support a single home.
    I’m a big supporter of IPower Energy Systems (ipoweres.com). They build relatively small units that run on anything from natural gas to swamp gas (at a landfill). I’m convinced their engineers could run them on shoe polish if needed. To date they are cost competitive down to the level of a small office building. A single home unit may not be too far off.
    =======
    John L., I agree with your message!
    Capstone is an impressive supplier of cogen equipment, including microturbine units small enough for a single home:
    http://www.capstoneturbine.com/
    Both centralized power and heat production are vulnerable to transmission losses….we might be better off with a very distributed generation system using microturbines, burning natural gas. Capstone’s vision was to have every home equipped with a very small microturbine set that would heat water, and run the power meter backwards during off-peak or high-demand times.
    However, the Big Coal Industries and their political puppets wouldn’t like this!!

  35. Four words: ground source heat pumps. Otherwise known as solar power generation without using rare-earth metals.
    The best argument against subsidising solar and wind energy schemes is that the subsidies assume those are the most useful technologies. In fact, the subsidies just stack the deck against the possibility of more efficient solutions coming through totally new routes instead of through evolution of existing technologies.

  36. Ontario has put a lot of money (Billions $$) into Wind Turbines and other renewables. So far they have provided insignificant amounts of power on an intermittent basis.
    See:
    http://ontariowindperformance.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/chapter-3-1-powering-ontario/
    Smart meters are another issue. They have also had very little effect on demand so far as it is truly difficult to change your life style in our extreme climate that in many areas has a temperature swing from +30 to -30 from summer to winter and in some areas may have temperature swings much greater. We have less extreme areas — particularly on the west coast — but much less need of air conditioning and heating. We have much less opportunity to control discretionary power usage (say air conditioning) than the southern USA.

  37. When I grew up heating and air was through open windows in the summer and a wood or coal fired stove in the winter. The toilet was an outhouse. I now have central air because its better and a lot less work and I don’t have to store or chop or carry my fuel. Replace the current energy source with something as much better as central air over the coal fired stove or fire place or the campfire and if I can afford it I will buy it. Until then don’t make me suffer with half measures that don’t work very will. And why do I no longer have an outhouse. Anyone who has used one and has modern plumbing knows the answer to that. I could go on and on from well water to plowing behind a horse and the work involved in that but you get the picture.

  38. Forget the big, bureaucratic, central-control options.
    micro-CHP, for example, from Honda and Freewatt. Depending on local utility costs, it makes financial sense — the relatively cold NE USA seems to be one region.
    Or for regional, local institutions, the ultimate renewable energy source — micro-nukes, “nuclear batteries”.

  39. I looked into CHP in the UK. http://www.chpa.co.uk/ The cost is outrageous and would not be paid back in my lifetime. Besides, look at Chris Huhne, the cretin who advocates it. He is such a buffoon. I would not micturate on him, even if he were on fire.
    I buy candles from Ikea for both light & heat. They work because really good insulation is not overly expensive and heat saved is heat earned. I don’t dust, because when dust get to be an inch thick it doesn’t seem to get any deeper. I bathe only in summer, whether I need it or not. As for food, I do this. http://paleodiet.com/
    As it happens, I am telling as many porkies as Jones & Mann, but you ain’t paying me and I don’t have to tell the truth. What are their exuses? They need the moola. Well, so do we all, but we also have principles. They have nowt, especially not decent reputations.
    For what doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world & suffer the loss of his own soul? Matthew 16:26
    The Life of Brutus:
    Finally, he [Brutus] spoke to Volumnius himself in Greek, reminding him of their student life, and begged him to grasp his sword with him and help him drive home the blow. And when Volumnius refused, and the rest likewise … grasping with both hands the hilt of his naked sword, he fell upon it and died.
    No comment.

  40. Earth to Thomas Fuller …… Say Tom; I almost hate to broach the subject; but your “Big Three” there Solar, Wind and Bio-Fuels.
    Where do you get “wind” and “bio-fuels” from; well absent the sun of course; that would be solar wouldn’t it.
    There are NO renewable energy sources apart from solar; unless of course you regard fossil fuels and geo-thermal as renewables. Well “fossil fuels” coal, petroleum, natural gas; are either solar; or of geologic origin.
    But wind/waves/plants/whatever are all forms of renewablew soalr energy; which means they all have that magic 1366 W/m^2 TSI limit on them. (less losses).

  41. You might want to check out WSJ’s 2010 Technology Innovation Awards article, specifically the “Energy” category winners under: The Winners, Category by Category
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703904304575497473735761294.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLENexttoWhatsNewsFifth
    But if by “Solar Power” you mean solar cells here on the surface I have to disagree about their potential. Having followed cell and solar cell systems technology development since their beginnings, and even with the innovation of Enphase Energy’s Microinverter (DC directly to AC as mentioned in the write-up) overall cost to benefit ratios are so negative that the amount of time required to derive the technology required to overcome that deficit is so great, that some other “system” will come into existence first. A system such as:
    Space-Based Solar Power (from the same article under the heading- “And Tomorrow’s Winners Will Be…)
    “Space solar power could (I predict “will”) transform the Earth’s economy.”
    The idea is for satellites in geostationary orbit to collect the sun’s energy and convert it into radio(?) waves for transmission to surface stations, where it will be converted into electricity for local power grids.
    Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based Solaren Corp., which last year reached an agreement to sell 200 megawatts of electricity a year to California’s largest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., for 15 years, starting in 2016. Solaren says it plans to test key systems and deployments in space in 2014, and launch its Space Solar Power Plant into geostationary orbit in 2016. A competitor, Switzerland-based Space Energy Group, says it hopes to launch a test satellite within three years, assuming it gets expected funding.

    However, I do agree that other (numerous) simpler systems have been ignored that if 1/1000th of the amount of money spent on proprietary technology would have been spent on them, would we would even be talking about energy “shortages”? No. But if large sums of money can not be made (or even recovered from development) because the technology is already in existence AND “open source” AND the systems that would use that technology are so easy AND inexpensive to build that anyone could in their backyard….. putting the power companies out of business…. or getting rid of BP, or Shell, or Exxon in the case of a simple vehicle propulsion system….. forget it! Heck, the modern day IC engine is a perfect example of a “created” complexity. And what is the major roadblock to simple systems happening? Do I even have to say it?

  42. “”” hell_is_like_newark says:
    September 27, 2010 at 7:09 am
    NJ Assembly passed a bill to allow the creation of ‘energy co-ops’ by expanding net metering. CHP was specifically exempted. NY allows net metering for CHP but NJ does not. Its so stupid…. “””
    I really like your handle; I once had the distinct privilege of having a flight from New York to San Francisco; that originated from the Newark Airport; following an Electro-Chem Society convention. My flight to SFO didn’t leave till four hours after I had turned in my car at the airport; after having been checked out of my Manhattan hotel at whatever hour that is (11:00).
    I waited around the airport for maybe an hour by which time I was all wound up and convinced I was actually in bombed out Berlin.
    Finally the heebie jeebies got to me so much, that I went back to the ticket counter with my ticket and asked if I could change my ticket. “Well we don’t have an Earlier flight to SFO” they told me.
    So I said to the lady (who was very nice) “Get me on the next plane that leaves this airport going to anywhere else !”
    Well I do have a flight to Dallas/Fort worth; that will close up to leave in five minutes and you can catch it at the closest gate just down there.
    So I changed the ticket; got on the plane to Dallas; found a connecting flight to SFO and got home 2 1/2 hours before my sheduled arrival from Newark. Never been to NJ ever since.

  43. I have specified and designed systems with Capstone microturbines; while not the answer for all our energy ills, they are very useful. My applications have used waste gas from industrical process that are too dirty to be used for anythingelse and the relatively small size of the turbines makes them perfect for energy capture; however, since it can be claimed they are not “CO2 neutral” I guess those of the AGW crowd aren’t their biggest fans.

  44. CRS DR.
    Another major advantage of every home generating its own power, is security. No power stations to knock out or threaten.
    The way to go……….

  45. Combined Heat and Power (CHP)stations are those that produce steam as well as electricity and thereby work at a much higher energy efficiency. The trouble for them is generally the difficulty of finding a market for the steam.
    Co-generation as I understand it is something different and takes place when a station burns a fuel it was not specifically designed to burn (like e.g. a coal fired power station adding say wood or organic waste to the feed.
    Co-generation used to be rare. The additives generally have less heating value so that there is a risk that it will cause the station to be de-rated (i.e. to produce less electricity than it was designed to). However it is becoming more popular since the additives can qualify as “renewables” and thereby attract subsidies and help meet the generating company’s “renewables obligation”.
    To find a market for the heat the generating company might e.g. place the power plant near to a town and cooperate with the municipality to produce a district heating scheme, but this requires a lot of cooperation and can often wind up with the would be generator in a planning quagmire.
    For all these difficulties, both of these technologies as well as combined cycle turbines in new power stations can provide huge increases in the amount of energy we get from a given amount of fuel. Unlike with wind or solar power, investment in these technologies will generally be profitable with little or no subsidy.
    Unfortunately most governments (and NGO activists) look at it simplistically, concentrating on and where appropriate subsidising the fuel, while giving far too little attention to the effectiveness with which the fuel is being used.

  46. So why do Finland and denmark produce so much wastage that they can get all that energy from it ? They should try to be less wasteful, and not make so much garbage.

  47. First of all here in Germany the efficiency of a modern coal power plant is between 42 -45 % and for a gas power plant 53 % and even nuclear power plants have an effiency of 37 % and not of 35 %. I think modern american power plants have the same efficiency. But even if you take this higher effiency into account you are comparing apples with pears as we in Germany say, when you compare these efficiency with the efficiency of a power plant producing only electricity with that of chp. For your comparison you have to take into account the energy needed to produce the electricity a household needs and the heat a houshold needs produced by gas or oil fired central heating (efficiency around 90-95 %). So the overall efficiency of these two systems electricity produced by a coal fired power plant and a gas central heating is around 80 %. Normally chps are heat guided and the water transporting the heat has a temperature of 120 ° C, so there efficiency is cleary lower as the efficiency of a power plant producing only electricity. Even in the summer, when nobody needs heat and the chp will produce only electricity the chp efficiency is normally a little bit smaller as for a power plant producing only electricity. Also, nobody will lay out a chp for the maximum heat capacity for the 10 -20 day in winter, when it is really cold, you therefore need a plant producing only heat so that the people have a warm home. Taken this together the efficiency of a chp, working at the optimal point and this is only theoretical, the efficiency may 83 %. You have theoretical advantage of a chp against an oil fired power plant and an oil fired central heating of 3 %.

  48. This system for home use changes the priorities (http://www.senertec.de/en/derdachs.html). Primarily it produces heat for the house. Electricity is a by-product that can be used or sold. An interesting system but a bit expensive. The main problem is to find a good balance between your needs for electricity an heating all over the year.

  49. Another issue with CHP is the length of the heating season. In many areas of Texas, the winter season is so moderate that even just using purchased electricity is cost effective. I use natural gas and my monthly bill in Jan. – Feb. rarely exceeds $30 (US).

  50. Cogeneration utilizes waste heat from electricity generation to heat buildings and or water. It saves money as long as you have a use for the waste heat. In the winter time we do, but in the summer we don’t. And summer is when we, in the USA, have maximim demand for electricity as everyone turns on the A/C.

  51. Roger,
    Overall I’m a proponent of CHP. I think it should be a large part of our energy strategy. It’s not a cure-all, if the life cycle for specific applications pan out, it’s a great choice.
    What baffles me is the carbon issue. A lot of these plants use natural gas (a fuel I also favor for many applications), but of course I end up with a carbon foot print when I run the load numbers. In addition, some plants use even more carbon heavy or non-environmentally friendly fuels. So who is going to decide where to balance these effective carbon systems vs. (sarc) sustainable systems?

  52. CRS, Dr.P.H. says:
    September 27, 2010 at 7:47 am
    …The long term solution is distributed power. Ultimately a unit small enough to support a single home…

    Right, retrofitting large districtwide CHP schemes to existing houses will be very expensive and disruptive.
    However, there are now systems coming onto the market designed to fit into existing homes where they replace the existing central heating/hot water systems. These will generate electricity as a “by product” of heating the home, and do so more cost-effectively than solar photovoltaic panels, for example. These systems can use natural gas or heating oil.
    Admittedly, since the use of electricity in a home does not necessarily coincide with the time that heating is needed, there is the need either to grid-connect the home – and/or to provide an electricity storage system in the home (as is typically done for other off-grid solutions such as solar photovoltaic).
    The aim is to use as high a percentage of the energy in the fuel as possible…

  53. The story in smart energy is aligning the energy supply with the energy needed. So often, the energy needed is not electrical or chemical although when you need electricity or gasoline, they are hard to beat.
    Storage can be batteries, or it can be whatever you want to do with energy. Could steam-chillers on a CHP be an economic basis for thermal stores as Ice Energy makes? Would this make a CHP an ideal load-shifting technology even in warm climates? We won’t know until we begin thinking about all energy sources, and final uses of energy, and make creative mappings between them.
    Personally, I have long wondered why every data center is into incorporated into some sort of CHP system. They certainly reliably through off heat every day of the year. That heat can be re-used elsewhere.
    Good post. Thanks.

  54. A little late to game here but I designed and produced a natural gas powered cogen plant for use in California back in 2002. It used an internal combustion engine rated at 375Kw@900RPM. The exhaust went through a catalytic converter and then the heat was removed using a special heat exchanger. This heat and the motor cooling heat was then used in in an Ammonia absortion chiller to provide cooling or could be used directly as heat. The overall efficiency was about 80% and the idea was to prevent blackouts during periods of high utility strain. Since the unit could be brought on line very quickly it could reduce the peek demand at places like hospitals and hotels. It doesn’t solve all problems but is an efficient way to generate power and heat for reasonable periods of time.
    It probably would not be very useful in areas with normally comfortable living conditions as the efficiency drops off dramatically if the waste heat is not used like days where ambient temps are 60 to 75 degrees F. On a 100 degree day in California at their energy rates it is actually cheap source of energy just not a silver bullet for everyone.
    Barry C. Strayer

  55. Toby,
    I’ve designed HVAC systems for Data Centers, Telephony Switches and other elctronically dense facilities for over 25 years. Much of the problem with re-using the waste heat is collection and the temperature difference. Most of the gear is not rated for more than 104 F, and most sites are kept at considerably lower air temperatures. This usually on leaves a delta T of 15 – 20 F to play with. Collecting heat by hydronics is even more difficult; we can’t get it directly from the racks because of the fear of getting water or other fluids on the electronics. And most of these sites really don’t have a place to reject low grade heat. But keep optimistic; I keep seeing more and more investigations into methods of using this heat and hopefully it will soon be invented and part of standard practice.

  56. Dzojar,
    We built cogeneration systems by the dozens across the US Gulf Coast as the nuclear power plants were built, and utilities raised their electricity prices. No government assistance was needed.
    At one large merchant chlorine plant near Houston (where I worked and have extensive knowledge), the new nuclear power plant and its high-priced electricity allowed us to build a large CCGT project (two large gas-turbines with waste heat steam generator and large steam turbine, three generators total). Natural gas is the fuel, and a large part of the steam is routed to the chemical plant so that previously-run boilers could be shut down. A win-win for the chemical plant.
    Many other cogeneration (CHP in the modern parlance) were built, especially in Louisiana.
    All it takes is another round of nuclear power plants to be built, and hundreds more CHP or cogeneration plants will be installed. We did it before. We’ll do it again.
    http://energyguysmusings.blogspot.com/search?q=death+spiral

  57. Grey Lensman,
    You missed my “get rid of the subsidies” rant. Efficiency is determined not by some external calculation, but by the relevant parameters in each instance. Heat pumps are remarkably efficient, as long as the delta T is small – not exactly what one wants to hear in Phoenix, or in Anchorage.
    I’m with you on the local power meme, distributed sources and sinks make for a very robust infrastructure for all concerned. I’m really gunshy about the huge grid, of which the E-companies are so proud. It’s failed before, and it will fail again. With or without external drivers.

  58. If you are building a new town from scratch it makes sense to build it as a megastructure, with cogeneration. The hot water/hot air/steam pipes are all enclosed within the structure, so no heat is wasted.
    However, for existing towns, the capital expense would be prohibitive, and the efficiency would be comparatively poor; a substantial and possibly excessive fraction of the heat would be lost in distribution. Since with cogeneration the “waste” heat has to be rejected at a temperature ~100K higher, significantly less electricity (~3/4) can be produced for the same primary energy. There might or might not be a net gain in overall energy efficiency.
    Surprisingly, The size of the power plant and its distance from end users is not particularly important for cogeneration. This is somewhat counter-intuitive. The reason is that nearly all the heat loss happens close to the consumer; loss is proportional to linear length but almost independent of pipe diameter (~logarithmic), so the lowest levels of the network dominate the loss (and also the cost). What matters is the density of users; loss is proportional to the typical distance between users. So city centres are good, sprawling suburbs bad.

  59. Most modern successful CCGT schemes do not involve distribution of heat to domestic consumers – because the capital costs are prohibitive and the legal problems associated with wayleaves normally insurmountable in any western economy. New capital programs typically focus on the provision of excess heat to one (or a small number of) commercial or industrial consumer with a high baseload requirement, which often includes the coincidental new-build of the industrial development at the same time as the CCGT generation. This is a win-win for everybody in terms of costs and efficiency.

  60. People are supporting TIDAL POWER? Do you not care about the environmental implications? How are the newly-hatched little baby sea turtles supposed to survive when the waves are not strong enough to wash them out to sea and safety? Are you PREJUDICED against sea turtles because they are not cute enough, not soft and fluffy like panda and polar bear cubs? Must the sea turtles DIE so you can have your big plasma flat-screen HDTV? Have You No Shame?!
    (Who doesn’t see this “line of reasoning” getting used by deep-green activists?)
    😉

  61. Dave, posting above, mentions ground source heat pumps, geothermal space heating and cooling.
    I’ve installed a 2 Ton (24,000 btu) unit in my house, and it is truly amazing.
    54 degree ground water in New Jersey makes for air conditioning which is three times as efficient as conventional split unit systems. For heating, it is twice as efficient as electric heat. Overall, 2.5 times the efficiency.
    My 2 Ton unit draws 4 Amps at 220V when air conditioning.
    An equivalent non-geothermal unit would draw around 12 Amps.
    This is an inexpensive, well understood technology which beats the crap out of solar power and wind power as a solution to reducing energy consumption while maintaining a comfortable “Western” lifestyle.

  62. Meanwhile, California goes further down the drain with the state’s Air Resources Board now requiring 33 percent of all electric power sales to be from renewables, by 2020.
    The primary claim is cleaner air, plus more jobs will be created in the state. There is also a claim of insulating the state’s consumers from future natural gas price increases. The words “dirty fossil fueled generation” are used, yet California has no coal-fired power plants.
    Apparently no one told the ARB that these renewable power plants require gas-fired power plants as back-up. Also, it is laughable that any manufacturing jobs for such plants will be in California, given the very high labor costs, real estate costs, tax rates, and regulatory burdens.
    http://www.arb.ca.gov/newsrel/newsrelease.php?id=155

  63. j.pickens,
    Ground source heat pumps are great energy savers. Like all systems it does have some limitations, primarily the local soil conditions. However, many ot the residences in this country could use this technol0gy with fairly rapid payback on investment.
    It’s tougher with large dormitory type facilities; I doubt you have more than two vertical bores; I recently did a barracks requiring over 120 bores.
    – some soil conditions don’t provide an adequate heat sink without large bore drilling costs.

  64. And they can be small…
    My kids high school put in a CHP gas turbine from Capstone Turbine CPST of about 30 kW size. Consumes the same fuel that they used to use to heat the pool, but now cuts their electric bill by 30 kW -hr / hr… The whole thing fits in a small garden shed sized enclosure. They also use their micro turbines to power busses, so the package will fit i a bus engine bay…
    These things are small enough you could put one on your block and share it between a dozen houses and tell the utility to go stuff it… AND they run on gobar gas (cow poo fermentation gas…) and ‘sour’ well gas as well as land fill gas and you name it.
    Yeah, I wish they had a 3-6 kW version. I’d be replacing my furnace with it…

  65. A high school in California several years ago installed a tri-gen system (electric power, heat, and chilled water) using natural gas in three piston engines with each engine driving a generator. Exhaust heat is recovered to make hot water. Hot water does double duty: some goes directly into the school’s hot water heaters for showers and kitchen use, the rest goes to a thermal chiller system. The thermal chiller creates chilled water that is used instead of conventional air conditioning. The school has approximately 100,000 sq. ft. of structures. The thermal chiller rejects heat via a small dedicated cooling tower system.
    A significant part of the funding for this installation was from the local utility company.

  66. 1. In comparing the efficiency of central utility plants, remember that typically 9% of the electricity produced is lost in transmission. On-site generation does not have these losses. 2. A big problem with on-site chp is that heat and electricity are not necessarily required at the same time. The solution is to parallel with the grid and use the grid as energy storage. 3. Comfort heating is not the only thermal load. Domestic hot water which can be stored is an excellent load even in summer. 4. Small absorption air conditioners are also an excellent thermal load. 5. For high efficiency gas turbines, look to recuperated, intercooled cycles. Ford demonstrated the 705 gas turbine in the sixties at 37%. With today’s technology, it would be 42%.

  67. So many excellent ideas and observations here. I like the look of the capstone microturbines.
    I did some more digging on Geothermal, it looks awesome and can be used in a lot of unexpected places.
    Seems a typical hole generates 20mw which would cost approx usd 40,000 per day. An expensive hole costs around usd 2,000,000, so payback is 50 days. tie that to super efficient reliable turbines and state of the art generators and you have a powerful package that provides constant power 24/7/365.

  68. Grey,
    Just so others don’t get them mixed up, I was talking bore holes for gorund source heat pumps; completely different from the bores for geothermal power. (I don’t want some one thinking I can get them 20 MW out of my A/C system ;)).

  69. “””” Grey Lensman says:
    September 28, 2010 at 10:31 am
    So many excellent ideas and observations here. I like the look of the capstone microturbines.
    I did some more digging on Geothermal, it looks awesome and can be used in a lot of unexpected places.
    Seems a typical hole generates 20mw which would cost approx usd 40,000 per day. An expensive hole costs around usd 2,000,000, so payback is 50 days. tie that to super efficient reliable turbines and state of the art generators and you have a powerful package that provides constant power 24/7/365. “””
    Hold on there pardner; not so fast.
    So you bore a hole in the ground, and hot steam comes zipping out; so you put a lid on it, and hook it up to a well understood Steam Turbine, and there you have it free clean green geo-thermal power. Shut down your dirty nukes and coal, and bore holes in the ground.
    Back 50 years ago, they bored a hole in the ground In New Zealand, and got hot steam came zipping out. Well they weren’t too sure if it would still be coming out through the weekend, or into next week, so they just let it fly straight up in the air; what’s a little steam added to the air, even though it is a green house gas.
    Well actually they let it run for several years; just to make sure it was for real.
    Well it was for real, and you could tell that when you drove by on the main road , because the surrounding countryside had all gone white; because that free clean green hot steam wasn’t quite as clean as they had in mind, and along with the free green hot steam they got a lifetime supply of pumice dust. I suppose that is some kind of limestone rock; and it sprayed all over the place and made it all white, including your car as you went by; everybody needs a new coat of limestone paint on their car.
    People complained that this free clean green hot steam was a pain in the A***.
    So the engineers decided to fix that by diverting the steam along the ground away from the road, so it wouldn’t gum up anybody’s carburettor.
    So they designed and built this whacking great steel curved mirror, that they could put on top of the pipe and direct the steam along the ground. By the way, the noise was something fierce too, and you could tell you were getting close, when you were miles away from the place.
    So all they had to do was lift the mirror on a crane and lower it down over the steam and the pipe, and throw a few bolts into some holes and bolt the whole thing in place. Pretty simple operation once you got the plate past the steam so it was going up through the hole.
    And they came THIS close to getting all the bolts in place and nicely tightened down with the steam jet now cleverly directed along the ground and away from the road.
    Then suddenly Whooosh !! there was their familiar steam jet going straight up in the air again. No it didn’t blow the bolts off and toss the steel mirror aside; that sucker was heavy and about two inches thick of special alloy tough steel.
    Another common name for pumice is “grinding powder”, and the energised pumice dust coming out with the free clean green hot steam, simply cut itself a hole through that turning mirror almost as soon as they had the thing set in place.
    The steam also had a lot of just hot water in it; which was not so good either.
    This is at a place called Wairakei; and it is still there; in fact it is an operating geothermal energy plant. but it took a coon’s age to get that steam under control and get the grinding powder out of it so they could pipe it to some useful generating equipment.
    Geothermal is not as simple as just boring a hole in the ground.
    Yes a number of places do it successfully; NZ happened to tap into a rather unpleasant supply of steam compared to Iceland and Italy.
    Worth doing if you have the right location and the right sort of steam; but it is no panacea.

  70. Thomas,
    ” If we had focused on CHP instead of wind power (which is really starting to annoy me–and a lot of others, I think)”
    Your comment in parenthsesis may be paraphrased by a Briton, such as myself, viz. “which (wind power) has gone straight up my nose, and produced no more than a fart”. That is the sum total of wind power (so-called); no wind, no power, and at a colossal expense to the tax-payer, it being subsidised. Another anomaly, not often mentioned, is that if the prevailing wind is too strong, as often happens in the North Sea for example, then the whole kit and kaboodle has to be shut down, “for safety reasons”. The last phrase is in apostrophes because I cannot be bothered to check with our Elf ‘n Safety jobsworths, but know it to be true.
    The Daily Telegraph now suggests that UK is a world exponent in wind power, having installed so many of the white elephants, but also adds that this country does not actually manufacture them, thus spreading the brown envelopes further afield.
    What a stench. And it comes not from the Thompson’s feedlot in WA!
    Chris

  71. Djozer
    Understood and I like heat pumps,
    George Smith
    Thank you for the crazy story of New Zealand. Typical and a good example of “oh its not so easy”. Well you dont do it that way. Despite the corporate mantra, “Time is Money”. Have they not heard of scrubbers, relative cheap for simple steam. Entrained rasping solids, Use a bit of simple materials science and knowledge. I am an Oil Man for my sins but at least we are taught that if there is a problem, fix it.
    There is an agenda here, how many references have you seen to holes running dry, problems, not so easy. Do you think every oil well is a success, dead easy, does not cause major problems.
    Look at the Icelandic power stations. Two things grab me, you can use them as art galleries and secondly they are way way too big. A garden shed would do.

  72. “”” Grey Lensman says:
    September 28, 2010 at 7:43 pm
    Djozer
    Understood and I like heat pumps,
    George Smith
    Thank you for the crazy story of New Zealand. Typical and a good example of “oh its not so easy”. Well you dont do it that way. “””
    Well Grey, somewhere in that story, I could swear I said it was about 50 years ago they did that. And yes they did have the experience of Iceland and Italy to guide them.
    Evidently those places; specially the Italian site I believe are not recent violent volcano areas; well Iceland is in part. BUt Wairakei is right in the heart of the Rotorua geothermal area that is the Yellowstone park of NZ, and the surrounding land is limestone rock for as far as anyone has been able to drill I think.
    To this day the natural geysers still emit pumice along with the steam. So yes they realized once they got into the project that their steam source was a horse of a different color.
    I haven’t kept up with the development of the place; but they have not gone around boring holes all over the Wairakei valley to enjoy a lot more of their bonanza.
    The scale of these things including the unreal pressures of the gulf deep drilling sites just boggles my mind; and istill can’t comprehend how you guys do that stuff. The idea of tapping into some place that has thwe whole weight of several miles of the earth’s crust pushing down on it; just does not register in my mind.

  73. @ Anton September 27, 2010 at 5:06 am:

    CHP works economically only with relatively short pipelines (a few kms) because of heat losses and cost of insulation.

    Yes, with insulating materials presently available. But there is one insulating material that will fix this – except it is taking forever to get to market.
    See the following YouTube video, about Maurice Ward and Starlite insulating material, on the UK show “Tomorrow’s World” from 1993:

    I saw this back then and wondered what the heck happened to it. Pretty much the same thing that happens to a lot of small inventors: Some large concern wants to get it and give him nothing for it.
    Two really good moments:
    1. When the guy takes it directly away from the torch and holds it in his hand and says, “…and it feels just a little bit warm.”
    2. When he breaks open the egg.
    In R&D I worked with some REALLY good insulating materials, and all of them were REALLY REALLY expensive. 20 years ago a cylinder 4″ diameter x 12″ long cost $1300 – and it couldn’t hold a candle to Starlite. I can VERIFY that, YES, you can hold the right material in your hand if it is a good insulator.
    Most people think it is temperature that burns you. NOPE. It is heat flow. I have held a 500°C piece of insulating plastic in my bare hand – and didn’t feel a thing – not even warm. And I first ran across that when I worked for a subsidiary of the company that made the space shuttle tiles. I saw a photo of a man holding a red hot shuttle tile in his bare hand. I was stupified. But it is true.
    This material – Starlite – would revolutionize much of our world. We assume that heat HAS to be lost. 1 mm of this material would insulate a heating duct against any outside temperature.
    For anyone interested, in this mp3 audio
    http://www.stevenrinehart.com/uploads/MauriceWard-Starlite.mp3
    Ward talks about the travails he has had, working with Boeing and others, where they were trying to rape him and leave him with nothing.
    If he can ever get his own terms – 51% of profits – he will deal with any company. Any takers? Before he dies and takes the formula to the grave?
    Starlite would allow us so much energy savings, in all KINDS of applications. Along with CHP it would save us maybe 50% of our heat energy used. (A wild guess)

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