Energy efficiency

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The most significant impact of CHP is to increase, often dramatically, the energy efficiency of power generation. As we have seen, power plants at best can only convert 60% of the energy in the fuel they burn into electricity. Generally efficiency is much lower. On average probably 60-70% of all the fuel burned to generate electricity is dissipated as waste heat.

At the same time offices, homes, small commercial and large industrial plants are using electricity or fossil fuel to produce heat for space heating, for hot water and to provide the energy for chemical reactions.

When a CHP plant is installed, the heat it captures and utilises will replace one of these other sources of heat energy. So the fuel or electricity previously needed to produce this heat will be saved. This clearly represents a dramatic improvement in the use of energy and it is for this reason that CHP is considered by many to be a key element in future global energy strategies.

The reduced use of fuel as a consequence of CHP will also reduce atmospheric emissions. Here again the effect is dramatic. But how is one to quantify the savings made from the use of CHP?

Most commonly, manufacturers claim that a CHP plant is perhaps 80% or 90% efficient while the underlying power generating unit is only 30% efficient. Such figures are slightly misleading since they do not mean that 80% of the energy is being turned into electricity.

A more useful measure would be the amount of fuel saved by the use of CHP. For example if a power plant has a fuel to electricity conversion efficiency of 33%, and in a CHP installation 83% of the energy is captured, then 50% of the fuel energy is being captured as heat. Thus half the CHP plant fuel is replacing fuel otherwise needed to generate heat.

Finally one might also consider the economics of CHP. If a homeowner with a domestic boiler for central heating and hot water, and with a grid connection for electricity, installs a CHP unit which produces both, it will take a simple calculation to determine how much that homeowner has saved. Similar calculations apply to industrial installations. Normally such calculations show that the saving is significant.

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