What is Cogeneration?

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Answers to your cogeneration feasibility and benefits questions.

With utility rates on the rise and the pressure to meet sustainability initiatives increasing, people are turning to businesses to lead the way in finding cost-effective, environmentally-friendly energy solutions. Hospitals, universities, corporations, manufacturing companies and more are faced with the same challenge – you’re not able to stop using fossil fuels overnight, but you want to save money and decrease your carbon footprint. It might be time to look at cogeneration.

Growing in popularity, especially in energy and “green” conversations, cogeneration is a way for facilities to optimize their fuel usage while producing another energy source on site, such as electricity or hot water. But, while it’s been around for quite some time, questions often remain. “What does cogeneration really entail?” And, “What could it actually do for me?”

The engineers at CSArch have put their expertise and resources together so you can answer:

  • How does cogeneration work and what are the potential benefits?
  • Are you a good candidate for cogeneration?
  • What do you need to know before moving forward with cogeneration?

What is cogeneration?

Imagine getting more out of the fuel you’re already paying for. Cogeneration does just that.

Also known as combined heat and power (CHP), cogeneration is the process of generating electricity and usable thermal energy at the same time. It is most commonly used in multi-building office or industrial complexes, multi-building PK-12 or college campuses, or facilities with 24-hour demand such as hospitals, hotels, or data centers.

In its official definition, cogeneration is:

“The concurrent production of electricity or mechanical power and useful thermal energy (heating and/or cooling) from a single source of energy.” (Energy.gov)

“A suite of technologies that can use a variety of fuels to generate electricity or power on site, allowing the heat that would normally be lost in the power generation process to be recovered” for heating and/or cooling systems. (Energy.gov)

Example Cogeneration System

  • Step 1: Gas fuels generators to produce on-site electricity
  • Step 2: Exhaust from the electric generators is collected and directed to micro turbine generators to produce hot water
  • Step 3: The hot water is used in any of the following applications:
    – Supplement space heating in the winter time
    – Fuel absorption chiller(s) to produce chiller water for summer cooling
    – Preheat domestic water year-round
    – Heat swimming pool water

How could cogeneration help your facility?

A cogeneration system burns less primary fuel (natural gas, biomass, propane etc.) more efficiently while creating additional output. As it does this, it can also:

  • Reduce your electricity or heat/cooling expenses and, depending on the size of the system, create the potential to go “off the grid”
  • Reduce your dependence on your local electricity grid and improve your resiliency in the chance of an outage or natural disaster
  • Conserve energy through increased efficiency
  • Lower emissions and reduce your environmental impact
  • Deliver a better ROI from your primary fuel source

Is cogeneration feasible for your facility?

In theory, wherever a large amount of energy of any type is consumed, particularly for heating or cooling, there’s opportunity to use cogeneration. The best applications for cogeneration are in facilities with consistent electric and thermal loads including hospitals, schools, recreational facilities, industrial facilities, hotels, and nursing homes. But, it can take a detailed audit from a specialist to define true feasibility for your facility.

To understand if cogeneration will work for a given situation, CSArch engineers will conduct a thorough audit. In the process, we’ll look to answer some of these key questions:

  • How much energy is consumed by current electrical, heating, and cooling equipment?
  • Is there year-round energy demand?
  • Is there extended or 24 hours/day energy demand?
  • Are you ready to replace your heating or cooling equipment?
  • What is the cost of the electricity you may potentially replace?
  • Are there tax credits or other funds available for you?
  • Does your facility produce methane gas, landfill gas, or biofuels?
  • If natural gas is your main fuel source, what will your cost estimates be?
  • Will this be part of a new construction or significant addition/remodel project?
  • Are you looking to achieve specific energy efficiency or sustainability goals?

What makes cogeneration a success?

While a cogeneration system is an exciting opportunity for many facilities, it comes with some realistic challenges. To get the most value out of your system, CSArch recommends that you:

  • Prepare for the long-term – cogeneration is a commitment to energy efficiency and should be part of a 20+ year plan.
  • Consider additional costs – While there are many benefits, initial construction and maintenance costs for cogeneration systems are higher than traditional power systems.
  • Collaborate with expert partners – Due to the potential complexity of the systems, a consultant who specializes in cogeneration should be brought in as part of your planning process.

For many institutions, cogeneration is an attractive concept. Conventional boilers and electricity systems are inefficient and costly. Cogeneration, on the other hand, can greatly eliminate inefficiencies while producing free electricity or thermal energy. But, there are many factors to consider before deciding if cogeneration will work for you. At CSArch, our engineers specialize in assessing, designing, and implementing cogeneration systems, as well as many other alternative energy solutions. No matter the solution, careful planning is required to ensure success.

Curious about cogeneration? Let’s start the conversation today. Feel free to reach out to our engineers so we can begin uncovering the best solution for your needs.