Of Orioles, Hydrogen, and CHP

Feb. 25, 2004
Greener Facilities Newsletter
You wouldn't know it looking outside my office window, but the harbingers of spring are sprouting...(If only in my mind!) But, a look at the Sports pages this morning and I'm reminded that another baseball season is getting underway in the temperate climes of Florida and Arizona. Which reminds me of an old story a friend told me about Earl Weaver, the colorful manager of the once-mighty Baltimore Orioles? During the 1970s, great starting pitching and a particularly potent offense balanced the O's, so much so that according to Weaver, "we could just sit back and wait for the three-run homer." And while relying on a "big blast" can be an effective strategy to winning, it occurs to me that there are times when the gamble doesn't pay off, and we can become complacent while other opportunities to score pass us by.

Not that I'm a big baseball fan, mind you, but I use this to illustrate a point driven home very cleverly and very clearly in a new book by Joseph J. Romm (bio) on the impact of our waiting for the hydrogen economy to halt global climate change. Hydrogen has become the "three-run homer" of the energy and environmental sectors.

In his book, "The Hype About Hydrogen: Fact and Fiction in the Race to Save the Climate" (Island Press, www.islandpress.org), Romm explains why hydrogen isn't the quick technological fix for energy and the environment that many environmentalists, mainstream media, industry analysts, automobile manufacturers and even the White House believe it is.

Buildings and factories powered by zero-emission hydrogen fuel cells may indeed become common in the next decade, Romm says, but when it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation, hydrogen is very unlikely to have a crucial impact until after 2040. The climate can't wait that long, according to Romm, and that's why an expedient approach to the adoption of already commercially-available energy efficient and renewable energy technologies is critical. Rather than wait for the "three-run homer" of hydrogen fuel cells, we can score runs by doing the little things now.

The energy equation is changing exponentially. To dismiss that fact is to say that baseball is the same game as it was 30 years ago, before muscle-bound hitters jacked up on steroids began assaulting the record books.

Distributed Generation and Combined Heat and Power Strategies (CHP) are really more doable and better investments now, and for the foreseeable future. Distributed generation is the use of small-scale power generation technologies that provide electric power at a site closer to customers than central station generation. A distributed generation unit can be connected directly to the consumer or to a utility's transmission of distribution system.

CHP, also known as cogeneration, is an integrated solution of which two or more components are powered by a single fuel source. Exhaust energy from the primary module is captured and used to power other system elements. Based on this technology, the efficiencies are increased and cost savings are achieved, along with environmental stewardship through the use of clean technologies.

UTC Power, a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, is a leader in the fields of distributed generation, CHP, fuel cells microturbines and organic rankine cycle products, all designed to produce heat and electricity with zero emissions. I had the privilege last week of participating on a Corporate Social Responsibility panel at UTC's Communications Conference in New York City, where I also listened to remarks by the engaging Dr. John Cassidy, director of UTRC (United Technologies Research Center).

According to Dr. Cassidy, systems such as UTC Power's PureComfortTM 240M Cooling, Heating and Power Solution can provide clean, cost-saving power and comfort from a single reliable source. This innovative system features a proven absorption chiller that provides space cooling in the summer and space heating in the winter, while MicroTurbines provide up to 240kW of reliable power year-round. As a result overall building electrical consumption from the grid is significantly reduced throughout the year. This system uses no ozone-depleting fluorocarbons and emits less than 9ppm NOx, which can qualify your building for significant financial incentives in some states. The system's absorption chiller provides seasonal heating and cooling in the same unit with no cost for fuel, since the waste heat from the MicroTurbines powers it. And the system has fewer moving parts than systems that employ vapor compression chillers and/or reciprocating engines.

Sounds like the kind of result even Earl Weaver would appreciate!

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