A Sixteen Candles Moment for Combined Heat and Power

October 16, 2012 | Chris Potter

Are you familiar with Combined Heat and Power technology (CHP)? Neither was I until a couple of months ago. CHP technology produces heat and power simultaneously in buildings from a single fuel source. It’s efficient, waste-reducing, clean, and reliable. Traditional power plants waste heat by releasing it into the air or nearby water, but CHP systems confine it and reuse it.

By burning less fuel, the technology helps reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as lowers energy costs. If a thunderstorm knocks out the power, CHP allows a facility to keep trucking along without supply from the grid. Sounds awesome, right?

Although it’s not one of our focus areas, CHP technology fits in well with IMT’s work (and building energy efficiency in general): it’s practical, it works to save energy and money, and in the sustainability world it’s underrated, unpopular, and unsexy. If CHP technology was still in high school, IMT would sit with it at the lunch table before band practice.

The technology quietly exists not only in manufacturing facilities but also in a wide variety of other buildings — from multi-family housing to K-12 schools, from large office buildings to hospitals.

CHP’s anonymity has recently changed, however. Just as the summer ended and members of Congress made their way back from their summer vacations and ambled onto the Hill, President Obama issued an executive order to encourage energy efficiency and CHP upgrades at manufacturing facilities across the U.S. Say what?

This was equivalent to Jake showing up at Molly Ringwald’s house on her 16th birthday when she thought she had been forgotten.

Obama’s order calls for a 50 percent increase in industrial CHP by 2020. The administration said reaching the goals outlined in the order will reduce energy costs by $10 billion annually and attract between $40 billion and $80 billion in private investment.

Kit  Kennedy, Clean Energy Counsel at the Natural Resources Defense Counsel responded to the executive order by saying the investment in industrial energy efficiency and CHP will enhance U.S. manufacturing competitiveness by $100 billion or more in saved energy costs over the next decade, while helping our power grids be more reliable and secure.

And as if CHP technology wasn’t already glowing with attention, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) came out with a new report last month, Coal Retirements and the CHP Investment Opportunity, estimating that coal-dependent states could replace about one-third of their lost generation with utility-owned CHP, as a large amount of coal-fired electric-generating plants are expected to retire in the near future.

In a press release, ACEEE said, “Alabama and North Carolina could replace over half of their retiring coal plants with CHP. States with smaller levels of expected coal retirements, such as Kansas and South Carolina, could replace all of their lost capacity with CHP.”

Eighteen states have already included CHP technology or related waste recovery in their renewable or energy efficiency portfolio standards. All of this recent attention is great news for the developers of this technology, and it’s great news for advocates of energy efficiency.

We’ll be keeping an eye on CHP tech. as its star rises, in hopes that it doesn’t burn out like an ’80s child actor.

Meet the Author

Communications Manager

Want to get regular updates from IMT?