In a world where we have become focused on a target to achieve 15% of our energy from renewable sources by 2020, CHP delivers a credible route to start decarbonizing the remaining 85% of our economy which will still be dependent upon fossil fuels. Graham Meeks, Director of the UK CHP Association, summed up the case for CHP thus at the association’s annual conference in London.

Meeks added that: ‘In a world where public services will be increasingly squeezed, CHP and district heating provide the scope to drive down costs by delivering long-term energy efficiency benefits.

Earlier in the day, RWE npower Cogen’s Phil Piddington spoke of the effects of the recession on the CHP industry – and the wider industrial base – in both Britain and Europe. While a couple of his customers had suffered in the worst possible way by actually closing down sites that incorporate major CHP plants, other companies used the recession to take a hard strategic look at their businesses and how to ensure their survival. Perhaps counter-intuitively, this may involve increased investment in cost-cutting on-site power plants.

Piddington described how npower has recently started site clearance work in Markinch, Fife, Scotland for a new, biomass-fuelled CHP to serve the Tullis Russell paper mill there. The proposed, 45 MWe plant, which will replace a 60-year old coal-fired CHP plant at the site, will burn around 400,000 tonnes per year of biomass, comprising both forestry waste products and waste wood recovered from city waste streams, largely from the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Wood from both sources will be made into wood chips and pumped into storage silos before being burned in circulating fluidized bed boilers to deliver both power and steam to the energy-hungry mill.

Development has been helped by a substantial grant from the Scottish Government’s Regional Assistance Fund, and the project will attract ‘double ROCs’ – twice the renewable incentive available to some other technologies. The plant would not be going ahead without this help, said Piddington, but Britain may lose out to other countries in Europe with stronger support mechanisms for CHP for industrial sites.

Piddington concluded that now is still a good time to plan biomass-to-CHP plants – and to end the practice of sending wood waste to landfill. Despite its difficulties, there is scope in the UK for perhaps 10-12 such plants.

Switching scale to micro-CHP units with an electrical output of around 1 kW which are being developed to serve individual homes, Yan Evans of Baxi spoke confidently of his company’s product being commercially available in the UK ‘by the end of the second quarter of 2010.’ Given that domestic-scale micro-CHP has been promised for ‘next year’ by a number of developers over a number of years, Evans’ claim was bold indeed.