As we approach the heat of the summer, hot weather isn't the only thing that is sure to impact the Atlantic Coast. This time of year is also hurricane season for much of the eastern seaboard. And with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expecting a busier than normal hurricane season in 2020, facilities up and down the Atlantic need to prepare for what could be just another complication on what's already been a very challenging year.
From Florida to New England, it's not just the most severe hurricanes that present significant challenges for hospitals, universities and all kinds of electric-consuming facilities. Smaller hurricanes, tropical storms and even summer thunderstorms can cause power outages that threaten a facility's ability to stay online and a hospital's ability to safely and effectively care for patients. Relying solely on the power grid and backup generators to power and cool a facility is becoming a bigger risk as the weather has become increasingly less predictable and, at times, more severe.
That's just one reason why many facilities are turning to combined heat and power (CHP) as their energy-generation solution. Advances in technology, fuel source availability and affordability, and a growing demand for sustainability, are driving a greater interest in CHP than ever before. Today, schools and universities, hospitals, retirement communities, and plenty of other large- and small-scale electric-consuming facilities are seeing the benefits of CHP. Rather than purchasing all of their electric power from a local utility or a competitive electricity supplier, facilities now can use CHP, also known as cogeneration, to generate their own reliable power on-site.
Under a traditional power system approach, facilities rely on grid-supplied electricity to power a given facility, and a separate boiler to produce steam used to heat the site or provide other steam-related services. CHP, however, integrates these functions using low-cost natural gas or other fuels to power an engine and create electricity for the facility. Excess thermal energy is recaptured and used, sometimes in conjunction with modern updated boilers, for heating or cooling the facility, with some facilities even able to sell additional excess electric power back to the local utility under what's called "net metering."
The key with CHP systems is greater energy and cost reliability.
At many facilities, a power outage disrupts business and cuts productivity. At hospitals and other healthcare facilities, it puts patients' lives at risk. By operating on a microgrid, CHP facilities have greater resiliency against hurricanes, severe storms and other natural disasters that create grid-level blackouts and brownouts. Conversely, the underground natural gas pipelines that often fuel CHP systems are less at risk of damage from heavy winds and extreme weather.
Additionally, CHP systems give facilities more predictable energy costs over the long-term and can help avoid market price fluctuations. CHP also offers the opportunity to use low-cost fuels in an efficient system, allowing for that reduced energy consumption to become a revenue source through net metering.
Beyond reliability, CHP systems should be the go-to solution for those facilities with aging infrastructure.
For many facilities in need of infrastructure upgrades, the benefits of CHP have been known but the limitations of the technology have previously made it unsuitable for smaller facilities due to the capital expenditure and expected ROI. That's no longer the case. Technology advancements make CHP systems ideal for facilities large and small, especially with the potential damage severe weather can bring to those with outdated infrastructure or in remote areas with limited points of access.
According to some estimates from the Department of Energy, most CHP costs can be recovered within 10 years, and often significantly sooner. There are opportunities to create long-term partnerships with organizations to cover upfront costs, and a number of incentives and rebates are often available. All that said, navigating new partnerships, regulatory concerns and cost projections can be complex. It requires the right partner to help companies explore those options, and make the best decision for their facilities' particular needs.
CHP allow facilities to reduce their carbon footprint and impact on climate change.
Many organizations are now more than ever putting greater emphasis on cutting their greenhouse gas emissions, and CHP offers a positive step toward sustainability. Rather than pulling energy from the grid, CHP enables running a microgrid on cleaner fuel sources like natural gas or biogas. There's also an opportunity to integrate renewable energy sources, including solar power and battery storage, into CHP systems. CHP microgrid projects can also integrate modern energy controls and more efficient lighting as components of a complete energy services package. The Department of Energy also estimates that CHP can avoid up to 60 percent of carbon dioxide emissions between 2006 and 2030.
Finding the Right Approach to CHP
For organizations that want to protect themselves from severe weather and upgrade their energy system, the options for deploying CHP are greater than ever. Facilities have the option of designing and building the system themselves, contracting with a third-party developer, working with a utility, or even combining with other likeminded organizations to create a microgrid.
At Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, we have extensive experience helping numerous organizations across industries develop CHP plans, find the right partners, secure regulatory approval, and more. With hurricane season upon us and increasing weather challenges each year, CHP systems are a smart option for facilities to keep the power running.
Originally published June 22 2020.
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