by Steve Hodgson

Change is in the air. No-one can ignore the seriousness of the worldwide business downturn that has followed the global financial meltdown referred to by WADE’s David Sweet in his Comment. Less clear is the likely effect on the decentralized energy industry but, as we report, in the US at least the economic downturn has helped to deliver a new tax credit system for small- and mid-scale CHP plants. This is the first time this sort of federal support has been extended to CHP alongside various renewable technologies.

The US clean energy credit package will be one of the last significant acts of incumbent US President Bush. The election of Bush’s successor has arguably generated more press interest across the whole world than the latest stages of the financial crisis. It’s going to be some time before Barack Obama is able to turn his plans for energy in the US into action, but his New Energy for America policy document is promising.

It contains, within a comprehensive series of measures proposed to reduce both US energy imports and greenhouse gas emissions, a section on decentralized energy that calls for new programmes to deploy distributed generation, along with demand response measures and electricity storage systems, in order to deliver energy efficiency savings and peak load reductions for customer premises in the US. Obama says he will strive to make America the most energy-efficient country in the world!

The re-alignment of US energy policy proposed by Obama is no more than the global energy situation deserves. The International Energy Agency talks of a ‘global energy revolution’ in its new World Energy Outlook 2008. ‘Current trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable – environmentally, economically and socially – they can and must be altered,’ it says, adding that the economic crisis must not be used an excuse for inaction. We must usher in a global energy revolution by improving energy efficiency and increasing the deployment of low-carbon energy, says IEA chief Nobuo Tanaka. COSPP readers will already know the central role that cogeneration and on-site renewables can, and should, play in that revolution.

Cuba may show one way forward. In this issue of COSPP, Mario Alberto Arrastía Avila describes the major role that distributed generation is already playing in moves towards a ‘new energy paradigm’ there. Elsewhere, feature articles examine the contribution that decentralized energy could make in Australia, how to invest in CHP successfully in Ukraine, and a large CHP/district heating plant in Sweden that has switched to biomass fuel. On the technical side, we examine how to maximise the efficiency of gas turbine technology, how CHP can deliver energy security, and how PEM fuel cells are being developed for small-scale on-site power applications across the world.

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Steve Hodgson