Question: What is cogeneration and how can it help me green my business?

Answer: Cogeneration, also known as combined heat and power (CHP), is the simultaneous production of both heat and electricity. The process itself is considered a highly efficient alternative to traditional separate methods of gathering electricity and heat, combining both processes by capturing the heat lost during the production of electricity using fossil fuels. The traditional method, according to Facilities Net, results in 60% of energy being discarded as heat through cooling towers or into river water. CHP however, harvests heat for industrial processes, space heating and water heating using 70% of the energy derived from fossil fuels (normally natural gas). The U.S Department of Energy suggests that the efficiency of CHP systems can operate at efficiency levels as high as 80% and suggests that the traditional methods of producing heat and power separately can have a combined efficiency as low as 45%.

The EPA suggests that the two most common CHP system configurations are gas turbines or steam boilers equipped with steam turbine. They suggest however, that gas turbines are more suitable for large industrial or commercial CHP applications that require a lot of electricity and heat.

The process may sound complicated, but, in fact, most of us engage with a cogeneration system every day without knowing it! The engine and heating system of a car are great examples of the cogeneration process. While the engine provides mechanical power, it simultaneously, releases heat for the passenger compartment and defroster. Ta-da! Cogeneration.

Which industries use CHP?

An article published by Queen’s University reports that the use of cogeneration in Canada is constantly on the rise. Having gained popularity within the industrial sector, Queens suggests that large buildings like hospitals and hotels have also begun to use gas turbines to produce both electricity and heat. In the United States, according to the U.S Department of Energy, cogeneration has been the provider of electricity and heat within some of the most important industries, largest employers, urban centers and campuses throughout the country.

The most common users of cogeneration, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are industrial manufacturers (chemical, refining, ethanol, pulp and paper, food processing and glass manufacturing); institutions (colleges and universities, hospitals, prisons and military bases); commercial buildings (hotels, casinos, airports, high-tech campuses, large office buildings and nursing homes); municipal applications (district energy systems, wastewater treatment facilities, schools); and residential projects (multi-family housing and planned communities).

What does this mean for my business?

A report by Canadian Consulting Engineer, reveals the many ways in which cogeneration system can redirect rejected heat in order to make your business more efficient. From paper drying and chemical or food processing to space heating and cooling using absorption chillers, cogeneration is a great way to save on energy costs and take a step in a sustainable direction.

Sustainable how, you ask? Besides the obvious advantage of becoming incredibly more energy efficient, according to COGEN Canada, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of cogeneration and sustainable industrial development, cogenerated electricity is as green as wind or solar electricity with the advantage of being available, no matter the weather.

In addition to saving on energy, you will also save on costs. According to an article by Yale University, the efficiency gains as a result of CHP results in “cost savings, reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, increased power reliability and quality, reduced grid congestion and avoided distribution losses.” From the sounds of it, cogeneration is a win-win process for all involved.

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