By Rod Walton, EnergyTech Senior Editor
There is a cogeneration gap in Georgia, and bridging it could be a pivotal turn in the journey to fight climate change and cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the large-scale and on-site power sector.
A new report from Georgia Institute of Technology researchers promotes the widespread adoption of combined heat and power (CHP) plants as a highly promising tool for improving energy efficiency, clearing the environment and creating jobs.
Georgia Tech’s research was sponsored by Drawdown Georgia, a statewide initiative focused on scaling market-ready, high-impact climate solutions in Georgia this decade.
CHP, also called cogeneration, is a multi-purpose plant which generates electricity either for the on-site operation or the grid and also allocates the resulting heat and cooling to be used in manufacturing, industrial or comfort solutions. Georgia currently has about 34 industrial power plants with an average of 25 MW generation capacity.
“Large commercial buildings, campuses, and military bases also could benefit from CHP,” the Georgia Tech report summary reads. “By utilizing both electricity and heat from a single source onsite, the energy system if more reliable, resilient, and efficient.”
Converting all of those 34 industrial plants to CHP could reduce statewide emissions by 2 percent while also offer better capacity factors than intermittent wind and solar, according to the report. The study identified more than 9,000 potential sites for CHP conversion or adoption, and utilizing cogeneration at all of them would reduce the state’s emissions by 13 percent overall, in an all-in scenario.
Cogeneration plants can be fueled by natural gas (which has half the carbon emissions of current coal-fired operations), biomass and, perhaps, green hydrogen someday.
“There is an enormous opportunity for CHP to save industries money and make them more competitive, while at the same time reducing air pollution, creating jobs and enhancing public health,” said principal investigator Marilyn Brown, Regents and Brook Byers professor of Sustainable Systems at Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy.
CHP systems can provide heat and power for college campuses, hospitals and other mission-critical facilities which operate their own plants. One barrier is upfront costs, with smaller campus-sited plants costing tens of millions of dollars and larger industrial cogeneration plants closer to the $100 million figure and often higher.
The Georgia Tech study says CHP’s high efficiency factors can make it worthwhile in the longer run payback. The CHP systems can be 85 to 90 percent efficient, compared with 45 to 60 percent in traditional heat and power systems. The technology co-produces electricity useful for heat and cooling, helping make air cleaner compared with traditional power and manufacturing operations, according to the report.
The study estimates nearly $150 million in reduced health costs and ecological damages in 2030 in the “achievable” scenario for CHP, with nearly $1 billion in health and ecological benefits if every Georgia plant identified in the study adopted CHP.
“The public health improvements are gigantic -- that’s a lot of lives saved, as well as childhood asthma and heart problems avoided,” Brown said.
(Rod Walton, senior editor for EnergyTech, is a 14-year veteran of covering the energy industry both as a newspaper and trade journalist. He can reached at [email protected]).