As all property managers and landlords face the increasing pressures of rising electricity rates and an increasingly unreliable transmission and distribution system, we must ensure that our customers, the tenants, have access to both affordable energy sources as to reliable and resistant power. Simply put, they have access to the energy and heat they need when they need it.
In many cases, our infrastructure relies on a boiler-based system for heating and grid connections (with potentially a backup generator) for power. However, this approach, as standard as it is, can be vastly improved by exploring a combined heat and power (CHP) infrastructure. Cogeneration plants produce electricity and useful heat from a common fuel source, resulting in a highly efficient way of generating power for installation “behind” connection to the electrical distribution system.
There are many types of technologies that could be used (reciprocating engine, gas turbine, micro turbine, and fuel cell) that the owner can explore to lower their operating costs and provide valuable power continuity in the event of a power outage. That said, we tend to favor micro turbines for most installations less than 1 MW in size. At this size, the micro turbine is truly an apparatus and is modular in nature. A typical unit is the size of a large refrigerator and has a moving part (which operates on air bearings). This means that it can be easily moved to a machine room and not take up a significant amount of “cost-effective” space. With noise production below conversation level, maintenance on this type of equipment is minimal. No longer will you need expensive maintenance contracts that involve oil removal and parts replacement. You won’t have to worry about testing your backup generator every month. The micro turbine is designed for full-time operation, reducing its dependence on grid electricity and providing a thermal source that can be used for hot water or space heating. In the event of an emergency, the load in your building can be prioritized to ensure that your critical functions remain active.
This technology is not new. CHP has been active in the market for more than 25 years. What is new is the pressure that spark propagation (difference between electricity rates and gas prices) exerts on the average building owner. Add to this the incentive potential through CDM (Conservation, Demand Management) funds of up to 40% and all of a sudden this technology could be much more viable. There are many companies that can perform the initial analysis at no charge to determine if you have a financial case to explore cogeneration.
If you are considering replacing boilers or researching the addition / replacement of your backup generator, you should take the time to explore whether a CHP solution would work for you.