Well-designed CHP cuts energy costs and net carbon emissions – but two added advantages are currently being concentrated on in the US. First, that of giving building operators a measure of independence from grid supplied power and, second, reducing stress on local power grids. Americans want to see increased resilience in their energy systems to cope with peak weather events such as heatwaves, hurricanes and major flooding events caused by climate change.
Earlier this month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $40 million of funding for new CHP systems that generate on-site energy to protect commercial, industrial, health care, institutional and multi-family facilities across New York State from weather-related power disruptions. The initiative follows the high profile demonstration last October of the standby power capabilities of CHP – protecting several buildings in New York State when hurricane Sandy caused widespread power cuts.
Just a week later, politicians in Washington DC covered similar ground – learning how district energy, CHP and microgrids can make local energy supply more reliable and more resilient in the face of severe weather events that have caused electricity supply disruptions. The Congressional briefing, organised by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, also reviewed plans to introduce the Local Energy Supply & Resiliency Act.
In both cities, CHP is being seen primarily as a tool to increase the resilience of local power infrastructure. And the State of New York, through its Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) is happy to subsidise new schemes. In New York, funding is available for gas-fuelled CHP schemes and CHP feasibility studies, with extra funding available for schemes that serve critical infrastructure facilities such as disaster refuge facilities. Schemes located in particular network stress zones, as identified by local utility Con Edison, also qualify for extra support.
Cuomo is clear that CHP has an important role to play in keeping New York safe: ‘CHP technology is a clean energy, common-sense solution that keeps the lights on and systems running during emergencies. It is important that we invest in the installation of these kinds of power systems across the state to fortify our infrastructure against severe weather to maintain essential services and business productivity, and most of all, protect New Yorkers.’
Major grid outages are still quite rare in North America, and standby generators are there to kick-in to supply essential loads for a while. But when a peak weather event knocks out an entire area, those buildings that already operate their own CHP schemes stand a much better chance of staying in business.