Cogeneration, Gas, New Projects, On-Site Power

Changing Utility Landscape a Major Driver Behind CHP Growth in North America

Efficient.  Resilient.  Cost-effective.  Clean.  These are just a few of the benefits mentioned time and again in regard to combined heat and power (CHP) systems, and the panelists in POWER-GEN International’s 2015 session “CHP Trends in North America” reiterated the benefits of this established technology.

“We’re looking at a technology that produces both electricity and useful thermal energy out of one fuel source,” said Anne Hampson, ICF International senior manager, to a packed room Tuesday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Hampson, who in her role with ICF International helps maintain a nationwide database of CHP, or cogeneration, installations, said CHP systems are in operation in every state in the country, though the West Coast and Northeast boast higher concentrations of these projects.

Among the many drivers for CHP are energy reliability and resiliency.  The ability to power hospitals and universities during Hurricane Sandy, thanks to CHP systems, increased interest in this onsite power method. Regulatory action on both the state and federal levels made way for new energy efficiency standards and incentives for CHP projects.  Replicability and the availability of a more pre-package system have seen health, hotel and grocery store chains utilizing CHP systems across the country.

The lower, more stable-priced natural gas outlook has also had a major impact on CHP growth in the U.S. where about 70 percent of existing installations are gas-fired, said Hampson.

One of Hampson’s fellow panelists, Florida Public Utilities Company’s Mark Cutshaw, discussed the reasons behind his utility’s recent development of a CHP project.  Customers said they wanted cheaper electricity, and after researching the company’s options Cutshaw said they determined they could generate their own power at a lower cost than they were paying on the wholesale market.

 “CHP can be used well by electric utilities, but it is a different thought process, it creates some additional challenges,” said Mark Cutshaw.  “But I really believe as we move into the future utilities will embrace this.  Hold on.”

Hampson placed an emphasis, as far as CHP drivers go, on the changing utility landscape.  Traditionally, she said, a lot of electric utilities have been defensive toward CHP.

“The electric grid is evolving from centralized power generation to a more distributed network,” said Hampson.  “Utilities are having to adapt.”