Shaping Tomorrow's Built Environment Today

A Strategy to Create a Lower Carbon Future: Integrating CHP Systems, Renewable Energy to Increase Resilience

By Mary Kate McGowan, Associate Editor, News

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©2019 This excerpt taken from the article of the same name which appeared in ASHRAE Journal, vol. 61, no. 12, December 2019.

About the Author
Mary Kate McGowan is Associate Editor, News for ASHRAE Journal

From distributed energy resources to thermal and power generation to electric and gas grid operation to microgrids, several factors are converging to force transformation in the energy industry. Change has accelerated in the last five years moving the utility industry from a centralized, scale-focused standardized model toward a digital, distributed, low-carbon, resilient and customer-focused model. This is creating culture shock in the utility business, which is now dealing with decarbonization, decentralization, microgrids and even blockchain customer-centric sales models.

One energy pathway, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems, is becoming an important part of this new energy mix as the drive to create resilient, efficient and low-carbon solutions increases. CHP systems can economically help cities, states and businesses reach zero carbon energy goals by 2050 using varying strategies to achieve decarbonization and maintain resilience.

Richard Sweetser, Life Member ASHRAE, said there are three dominating factors driving the adoption of CHP systems: economics, decarbonization and resilience.

“CHP is one of the lowest cost and lowest carbon emissions way to create electricity today and can be well into the future,” said Sweetser, president of EXERGY Partners Corp., who serves as program subcommittee chair for ASHRAE Technical Committee 1.10, Combined Heat and Power Systems.

CHP systems work well with another energy strategy jurisdictions are heavily leaning on: solar and wind power. Both intermittent solar and wind power supplies can be integrated with CHP systems to create stable, low-carbon hybrid systems.

Integration of intermittent renewable resources into the grid, buildings and microgrids is still a relatively new trend, according to Sweetser. End-users have developed hybrid solutions that incorporate CHP, solar photovoltaics and batteries. In this configuration, high on-peak daytime electric demand pays for the photovoltaic (PV) and battery combination, and a downsized CHP plant provides long-term energy resilience and improves project payback, according to Sweetser.

Although some jurisdictions are focusing on all-electric solutions based on 100% renewable energy to achieve zero carbon goals, it is unclear whether they can reach that summit. Battery storage technology required for 100% renewable penetration does not exist, and the economics of a completely renewable electric grid remain out of reach, said Gearoid Foley, Member ASHRAE, owner of Integrated CHP Systems Corporation. Foley said he believes while battery development continues, other paths to a zero carbon future must be explored to ensure decarbonization can be economically achieved while maintaining energy system reliability and resilience.

“Integration of CHP with the smart grid is something we see as a potential future evolution for CHP where CHP combined with other on-site generation resources including both intermittent renewable energy and fossil-fueled dispatchable generation, are combined with the power grid to offer the cleanest mix of power, and thermal energy, without sacrificing reliability,” he said.

As the industry moves to increased adoption of CHP systems, challenges ranging from proper power and thermal load matching, grid interconnection, evolving electric and gas rate tariffs must be addressed. Other challenges include developing microgrids, new low and no carbon fuels and new electric utility business models.


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