By Elisa Wood
June 19, 2008
Combined heat and power is a form of alternative energy that has been available for many decades. Yet it’s remained below the radar screen in policy discussion about our energy future.
However, it appears to be gaining new stature as lawmakers and regulators seek ways to make energy use more efficient.
Also called cogeneration, the technology creates both electricity and heat in one unit. Most power plants throw away two-thirds of the energy consumed in production. But CHP plants use the excess energy to heat, cool or humidify the building. As a result CHP reclaims one-third of the energy that would otherwise be lost.
In addition, CHP plants are usually built very close the factory, hospital, college or office building they serve. So electricity is not lost as it travels long distances over transmission lines, as is often the case with large, central power plants that serve many consumers and businesses.
Taking notice of CHP’s virtues, some states have created portfolio standards that encourage its development. The standards require that utilities use a certain amount of alternative energy to meet efficient or clean energy targets. This approach has been highly successful over the last several years in spurring development of wind, solar and other green energy sources in the US.
Now eight states allow part of the requirement to be met through installation of CHP. In Connecticut, for example, a factory, school other large energy user can install CHP to meet its heat and power needs and receive a kind of tradable credit for doing so. The energy user then can sell the credit to a utility that needs to meet state requirements.
In addition to Connecticut, the eight states are Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Washington. These states should serve as interesting testing ground to see if portfolio standards accelerate use of CHP as they have wind and solar energy. We encourage those interested in CHP to check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s CHP partnership, an agency that is playing a strong role in encouraging use of the resource. See http://www.epa.gov/chp/