In the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused power outages across much of the northeast, but at Princeton University and New York University, the lights stayed on and the students remained warm. Both schools have reliable combined heat and power plants which generate electricity with clean natural gas and use the heat created to warm their buildings.
CHP has been in use in the United States for more than 100 years. It is primarily used in university campuses, hospitals, manufacturing and food processing plants – facilities that have need for steam and heat – where unreliable service is not an option.
Today, there are approximately 4,100 CHP systems operating in the Unites States. In addition to the resiliency benefits CHP system can provide, these systems can achieve attractive returns on investment by reducing electricity and heating cost by up to 50 percent compared to procuring electricity and heat from conventional sources. In fact, the American Gas Association published a report identifying more than 40 gigawatts of potential CHP installations nationwide that could achieve a 10-year payback or less.
Over 70 percent of the existing CHP systems are fueled by natural gas. The United States has an abundance of natural gas which has kept prices low and stable for the past several years and that is expected to remain the case for decades into the future. Strong domestic supply and low prices coupled with the need to comply with clean air regulations means great potential for CHP.
Beyond being a sound business decision, CHP can have broad implications for our environment. The growth of natural gas in the United States has taken place simultaneously with the growth of renewable energy and the results have benefited the economy and our environment tremendously. The evolution away from coal and toward natural gas and renewables has propelled the U.S. to the lowest annual carbon dioxide emissions in decades. Current CHP systems allow our nation to avoid 248 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of removing more than 45 million cars from the road.
No other energy source available today can deliver the level of efficiency and reliability of natural gas. The direct use of natural gas – whereby the energy is consumed on-site versus at a power plant and then transported to the end user – is 92 percent efficient and the most environmentally friendly use of our nation’s abundant natural resources. Many experts believe that this type of distributed generation is the future of energy delivery. President Obama set a goal of 40 gigawatts of new CHP installations by 2020.
Duke Energy is proposing a 21-megawatt natural gas combined heat and power facility on the Duke University campus in Durham. Natural gas is already being used on campus to meet thermal heat requirements. The university’s electricity primarily comes from power plants that use coal and natural gas. The proposed CHP unit would displace that electricity mix as well as the thermal heat produced from school’s natural gas boiler.
The project would lower energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by about 25 percent, which is equal to the greenhouse gas emissions from about 10,500 passenger vehicles driven for one year. In the future, the project could be used to isolate critical loads on campus, with reliable backup during severe weather events.
Installing a combined heat and power plant is a smart decision for the long-term financial health of the university and our environment. Choosing the reliability of CHP is an investment in the safety and security of Duke’s students. It is an investment in the future that we can all get behind.
Dave McCurdy is the president and CEO the American Gas Association (AGA) which represents more than 200 local energy utility companies that deliver natural gas to 177 million Americans nationwide. He served for 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives as the Member from the Fourth Congressional District of Oklahoma.