CoGeneration: An old concept making a NEWLY recognized and revolutionary comeback!

What industries could gain the greatest BENEFIT from co-generation?

CoGenration.  Here’s some fast facts:

In 1882 Thomas Edison began using CoGeneration, also known as “combined heat and power” at his Pearl Street Station central power plant.  This was the world’s first commercial power plant; a combined heat and power plant, producing both electricity and thermal energy from one fuel source, while using residual waste heat, (normally released into the atmosphere) to warm neighboring buildings.  Recycling allowed Edison’s plant to achieve approximately 50 percent efficiency.  CoGeneration may be produced and delivered via micro turbine, steam, nuclear power, and fuel cells to name a few.

But unfortunately, by the early 1900s regulations emerged to promote rural electrification through the construction of centralized plants managed by regional utilities.  The regulations were the beginning of centralized electricity;  regional monopolies and bureaucracies began to take over, going so far as to  discourage DE-cetnralized electricity making it illegal for non-utilities to sell power. 

Decentralized electricity is called by many names, like “distributed generation”,  on-site generation, dispersed generation, embedded generation, decentralized generation, decentralized energy or distributed energy.  These are mini (on site) self produced power plants plants, which are highly efficient because there is little energy lost in transmission and distribution.  Because the transmission of on-site energy production travels a short distance, it is far superior to having electricity travel over long utility line infrastructures; this is better for the environment and achieves excellent economic return for the on-site power producer.

What industries could gain the greatest BENEFIT from co-generation, and why?

  • Commercial Farms & Ranches
  • Paper Industry
  • Petroleum refinery
  • Chemical Processing Plant

The answer is ALL of these industries benefit from waste heat recovery, but it is subjective as to how much. One cannot compare whether any one industry will benefit more than another, because we have not taken into consideration what each industry uniquely needs, values or expects from the CHP Micro Turbine technology; hence, getting to know your customer. Wherever chillers, boilers, steam, HVAC, VOC destruction, and the Air Resources Board are lurking, there you are.

* Commercial Farms & Ranches: Likely the ranch will not have access to natural gas supply due the rural location. However, if they produce methane Bio gas, then we are looking at a self produced commodity. If they have access to natural gas, and if the ranch has many process heat demands, then Micro Turbines are worth looking into further.

* Paper Industry is FIRST likely candidate: This is a dream for Micro Turbines.  Raw material preparation, chemical pulping, pulp washing, secondary fiber processing, paper-making, paper machines drying section, chemical baths, facility operations – motors, VOC destruction, bark chipping. This industry is heavily reliant upon water, heat, electricity and VOC destruction. There are many operations to keep going at once,and room for methane production.

* Petroleum refinery is the SECOND likely candidate to pulp refining, and yet petroleum refineries are under speculated; it is one of the largest users of Cogen in the country. I think it’s the BEST bet for cogeneration to benefit if I had to choose just one industry based upon its sheer energy consumption. It’s a good market because it can export energy to the grid. “The cost benefits of power export to the grid will depend on the regulation in the state where the refinery is located. Not all states allow wheeling of power (i.e., sales of power directly to another customer using the grid for transport) while the regulation may also differ with respect to the tariff structure for power sales to the grid operator”. Energy Star Petroleum Guide. Here, methane is captured once again.

* Chemical Processing Plant: this is not much different than the pulp factory and petroleum factory, as both rely heavily on processing and refining, the same as a chemical processing plant.


Article written by Jennifer Coleman of Sun Source Solar Energy Brokers, providing solar broker and alternative energy consulting services in Santa Rosa, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Solano and San Francisco Counties.

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