There is one amendment to this ideal – and fictitious – comprehensive energy plan. (You cannot have a plan without amendments.) Generating electricity is a wasteful use of heat. The Intl. District Energy Association (IDEA) reports, “Almost 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption is used for power generation, and more than two-thirds of this fuel ends up as waste heat. Industrial processes and municipal operations also produce usable thermal energy in the form of stack gases, cooling water, and landfill gas. This energy can be recycled through combined heat and power.” There is such an option in cogeneration among combined heat and power (CHP) plants. They should be developed, encouraged, and implemented in building applications wherever possible. This goal means some big changes may be needed in business plans of utilities and building owners. If form follows function, as the architects claim, then energy issues will have to assume a far higher priority among designers and building owners, too. CHP should become a prime consideration, even for residential applications (www.districtenergy.org).
The following description is provided by the Midwest CHP Application Center: Combined heat and power systems for commercial, institutional, and industrial facilities incorporate multiple technologies for providing energy services to a single facility or to multiple facilities. Electricity to such facilities is provided by on-site or near-site power generators, using one or more of the many options: internal combustion engines, gas turbines, microturbines, and solar panels or fuel cells. In CHP systems, thermal energy in various exhaust streams from power-generation equipment is recovered for operating equipment for space and/or process cooling, heating, or controlling humidity in facilities by using absorption chillers, desiccant dehumidifiers, or heat-recovery equipment for producing steam or hot water. These integrated systems are known by a variety of acronyms: CHP, CHPB (Cooling, Heating, and Power for Buildings), CCHP (Combined Cooling, Heating, and Power), BCHP (Building Cooling, Heating, and Power), and IES (Integrated Energy System). CHP uses proven technology capable of providing reliable and efficient electricity and thermal energy in the form of heating, cooling, and steam, while ensuring lower impacts on air, water, and precious natural resources. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that CHP produces 46 GW of power. DOE’s goal is to double that supply to 92 GW by 2010. (Another CHP resource, including successful case histories and a free design manual, is the Northeast CHP Application Center.)
One CHP example reported by Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, is a combined heat and power project as a renewal and upgrade at its central heating plant, the heart of its international award-winning campus district heating system. It will add new, state-of-the-art equipment that produces electricity and heat together with significantly less energy than making them separately. It will complement the existing highly efficient campus cogeneration and hydroelectric facilities, and the lower total energy input will result in associated reductions in environmental emissions on campus and within New York. The CHP project will add two gas turbine generators, totaling a nominal 30,000 kilowatts of electrical output, with heat-recovery steam generators at the current central heating plant. Exhaust heat leaving the gas turbines will then provide the heat energy to produce steam for campus needs.
Case histories of successful CHP projects show that many hurdles must be overcome if new plans upset the business strategy of utility companies that focus only upon central power plants. Leaving the grid turns out to be anathema to many utility companies, and they may defend their balance sheets in court. But, that old paradigm may no longer be actionable as new forms of utility companies may be needed. A model for the new utility company could be Ever-Green Energy in St. Paul, MN, which set up District Energy St. Paul, a CHP energy system for that city. The company stipulates on its website as follows: District Energy St. Paul uses wood chips (biomass), natural gas, oil, or clean-burning coal to fuel its district heating and cooling systems. With the 2003 start-up of an adjacent wood-waste-fired combined heat and power plant managed by Ever-Green Energy, District Energy has reduced its reliance on coal and oil by 70 percent. Using a renewable fuel source produces significant environmental benefits and helps the community solve a local wood-waste disposal problem. District Energy St. Paul currently provides heating service to more than 185 buildings and 300 single-family homes, representing over 31.1 million square feet of building space, or 80 percent of St. Paul's central business district and adjacent areas. District Cooling St. Paul, a District Energy affiliate, currently provides air-conditioning service to more than 95 downtown St. Paul buildings, representing 18.8 million square feet. These buildings don’t need their own boilers or furnaces, hot water heaters, chillers, or air-conditioners; the District Energy system does that work for them. District Energy St. Paul customers benefit from reduced costs and the knowledge that they’re using an environmentally sustainable source of green energy to heat and cool their buildings.
Charles Darwin taught us that life forms must continually adapt to changes or die out. Energy policy poses just such a challenge to the human race that may be ignored at our peril. We’re racing into the future of energy, and time is running out for business as usual. Scientists estimate that 99 percent of all species now are extinct, but new ones are discovered regularly. If established institutions cannot adapt, then new institutions must be formed to capitalize on the changes. There is a Chinese proverb: If we don't change our course, we'll end up where we're headed.