As every property manager and landlord faces the mounting pressures of rising electricity rates and an increasingly unreliable transmission and distribution system, we need to ensure that our clients – the tenants – have access to both affordable sources of power and reliable and resilient power. Simply put that they have access to the power and heat they need when they need it.
In many cases our infrastructure is built upon a boiler based system for heat and connections to the electrical grid (with potentially a back-up generator) for power. Yet this approach, as standard as it is, can be vastly improved through the exploration of a combined heat and power (CHP) infrastructure. CHP plants produce electricity and useful heat from one common fuel source – resulting in a highly efficient way of generating power for your installation ‘behind’ the connection to the electrical distribution system.
There are many types of technologies that could be utilized (reciprocating engine, gas turbine, micro turbine and fuel cell) that a property owner can explore in order to reduce their operating costs and provided valuable power continuity in the case of an outage. With that said, we tend to favour micro turbines for most installations under 1 MW in size. At this size the micro turbine is really an appliance and is modular in nature. A typical unit is the size of a large refrigerator and has one moving part (which operates on air bearings). This means that is can easily be moved to a mechanical room and not take up a significant amount of ‘rentable’ space. With noise production at less than conversation level, the maintenance on this type of equipment is minimal. No longer will you need expensive maintenance contracts involving oil disposal and parts replacement. You will not have to worry about testing your backup generator every month. The micro turbine is designed to run full time – reducing your reliance upon electricity from the grid as well as providing a thermal source that can be utilized for hot water or space heating. In the case of an emergency, the load in your building can be prioritized to ensure your critical functions remain active.
This technology is not new. CHP has been active in the marketplace for well over 25 years. What is new is the pressure the spark spread (difference between electrical rates and gas prices) in placing on the average building owner. Add to this the potential for incentives through the CDM (Conservation, Demand Management) funds of up to 40% and suddenly this technology might be much more viable. There are many companies out there that can perform the initial analysis at no charge in order to determine if you have a financial case for exploring CHP.
If you are looking at replacing boilers or are investigating the addition/replacement of your back up generator, you should take the time to explore whether a CHP solution would work for you.