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Why it's time to rethink cogeneration

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By: SGN Staff

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I'm passing along this guest editorial for several reasons. For one, it comes from a customer who now sells power back to his utility. We're going to see a lot more of this. For another, it is an excuse to remind ourselves that change can be a positive thing if utilities will pursue ways to participate and profit from it. Cogen is going to grow, for the reasons explained below. Rather than just stand by and watch it happen, utilities should play an active role. They might, for instance, consider getting into the business of building, maintaining and operating cogen plants. - By Jesse Berst

 

By Chadwick Wasilenkoff

 

"Combined heat and power (CHP), also known as cogeneration, is the simultaneous production of electricity and heat from a single fuel source, such as natural gas, biomass, biogas, coal, waste heat, or oil,” reports the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Around 8% of world electric generation capacity comes from cogeneration. In countries such as Finland (almost 40%) and Denmark (over 50%) cogen provides a substantial portion of the national power production.

 

Cogeneration is more a principle than a single technology with the main advantage being optimal efficiency. Environmentally friendly, the majority of today’s large industrial and commercial CHP applications are in the pulp and paper, chemical, refining, food processing, ethanol and manufacturing sectors, which require vast amounts of electricity and heat, and typically run on natural gas which is generally regarded as the cleanest fossil fuel. As natural gas is in great supply across North America, it is free of geopolitical strife.

 

Gas fired cogen plants are common, but biomass fueled plants have the added benefit of using a renewable, practically inexhaustible fuel source. In a pulp mill for instance, wood waste that would typically end up in landfills can be recycled and used as fuel for onsite cogeneration plants to provide power for the pulp mill and for steam for operations. Any additional power can be exported.

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