Steve Hodgson   Steve Hodgson
Contributing Editor

Could the CHP and wider distributed generation industries of the US be in for a boost? It’s possible – two new bills, the Clean Distributed Energy Grid Integration Act and the Heat Efficiency through Applied Technology (HEAT) Act, were introduced for consideration by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee a couple of weeks ago. While there’s an awfully long way to go before either of these CHP-friendly bills could make it into legislation, there’s already a good deal of optimism for CHP around the US at the moment, based largely around low gas prices and high gas availability.

That optimism was evident at the conference covering industrial-scale CHP held in Houston, Texas last month. Former FERC and Public Utilities Commission of Texas Chairman Pat Wood talked of the local air quality benefits delivered by the programme of CHP project-building carried out in the last ten years in the Houston area, as well as CHP’s wider role nationally to supply reliable and secure on-site power.

The World Alliance for Decentralized Energy (WADE) project excellence award given at the event went to a project at a textile manufacturer in Mexico, where a 36 MW CHP scheme based on a gas turbine from Siemens is both cutting on-site energy bills and exporting power to the local electricity grid.

Back in Washington, the Grid Integration Act would direct the Secretary of Energy to develop an effort focused on advancing the integration of clean distributed energy technologies – CHP, renewables, energy storage, fuel cells, and waste heat-to-power – into electricity grids, according to the ever-vigilant American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The Act calls for research to address technical and regulatory barriers to distributed generation, and for support for the demonstration of intelligent integration systems for distributed generation (that are dynamic in response to changing grid conditions).

Meanwhile, the HEAT Act addresses major regulatory barriers to encourage the deployment of CHP and waste-heat-to-power, and would provide assistance to states in considering interconnection procedures and tariff schedules as well as model standards for supplemental, backup, and standby power fees for CHP systems.

But a glance at the news pages of the COSPP website (www.cospp.com) clearly illustrates the breadth of CHP and distributed generation projects being installed across North America at the moment. Los Angeles International Airport has just opened a new central utilities plant based on an 8.4 MW CHP plant that also includes steam-driven chillers and a huge thermal storage tank to provide cooling as well as heat and power to the nine-terminal facility. Meanwhile, new trigeneration technology based on microturbines from Capstone is to supply close to 100% of the energy needs of a 350-villa resort development in Hawaii. Five turbine generators with a total capacity of 1 MW combine with absorption chiller technology to provide cooling for the resort’s clubhouse.

And global engineering and construction giant Black & Veatch has commissioned a microgrid system to not only provide power to its headquarters in Kansas, but also to allow it to evaluate local energy technology options. The system includes solar PV and geothermal heat pump systems, two gas-fired microturbines and on-site lithium-ion battery storage to provide energy to what is said to be the largest office building in the state.

Significantly assisted by plentiful gas supplies, CHP and distributed generation, particularly in the commercial sector, are doing fine in the US.