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Study to explore connection between energy efficiency, community resilience

ACEEEresearchThe American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy Redirecting to a non-government site (ACEEE) is launching a new research project this year to explore how energy-efficient systems can help a community withstand extreme weather and economic stresses.

A recent ACEEE blog post suggested ways in which energy-saving measures might enhance a community’s resiliency. In a direct example, combined-heat-and-power (CHP) systems kept the power on at critical facilities during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. While 8.5 million customers lost power, some hospitals, residential buildings, universities and public services were able to continue operating and provide services to citizens. CHP generators tend to use natural gas and highly efficient turbines and engines to serve very local loads, but can also run on biomass or biogas in times of disaster.

Embracing energy efficiency may protect communities in less obvious ways. “Resource resiliency” refers to reducing a community’s demand for natural resources, thereby freeing income to spend on other needs that benefit the local economy. Individuals and communities could invest their energy cost savings in safer and more durable buildings, distributed generation systems or effective emergency management plans.

Energy efficiency offers other long-term benefits to the community, such as creating more economic activity and jobs. Should the unthinkable happen, a vital local economy will be in a better position than a depressed one to recover from a disaster. Reduced energy use also means fewer emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, leading to improved public health.

The ACEEE study will explore opportunities in policy and program development to integrate efficiency and resilience efforts, and attempt to determine metrics for measuring efficiency-related resiliency. Researchers are encouraging members of the energy- efficiency and resilience communities to share their views on the efficiency-resilience interconnection. Suggestions about valuable literature, case studies, potential metrics and policy and program opportunities are also welcomed. ACEEE expects to release the research report this coming summer.

Source: American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, 2/4/15

ACEEE: Combined heat and power should be part of EPA clean power plan

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its plan in June for cutting carbon pollution from power plants by 2030, using four building blocks to achieve targeted reductions.

Each building block represents a category of measures that states can use to meet the first-ever federal regulation for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) from existing power plants. The agency included energy efficiency, creating a path for states to reduce both greenhouse gases and consumer energy bills, but overlooked combined heat and power (CHP). The American Council for an Energy-Efficient EconomyRedirecting to a non-government site noted that the readily available energy resource could provide states with substantial energy savings.

Block-worthy strategy
For the EPA to include a policy measure as a building block in its proposal, the energy savings it provides should be cost-effective, adequately demonstrated and there should be lots of it. CHP meets these criteria by providing both energy and environmental advantages over separate heat and power systems. An ACEEE study found CHP represents around 18 Gigawatts of avoided capacity, and that installing the technology could save more than 68 million Megawatt-hours of energy by 2030. Those energy savings could cut CO2 emissions and offset the need for about 36 power plants.

In addition to offering energy and environmental benefits, CHP is a well-established resource, widely in use in industrial facilities, hospitals and universities to reduce operating costs and ensure reliability. According to the Department of Energy, it currently represents 8 percent of installed U.S. electric generating capacity and more than 12 percent of total electricity generation, and has the potential to achieve much more. A study from Oak Ridge National Laboratory found CHP could reach up to 20 percent of U.S. generating capacity by 2030. Including CHP as a strategy for meeting CO2 reduction goals will encourage greater investment in the efficient technologies that deliver environmental and economic benefits.

States make their move
Another advantage of treating CHP as an energy efficiency measure is that it can provide emissions reductions at a lower cost than other sources. A handful of states, including New York, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and others, are developing innovative approaches to increase deployment of CHP to gain its energy savings and emissions benefits. ACEEE is urging EPA to encourage states to use CHP and provide guidance to help states include energy savings from CHP in their compliance plans. Source: American Council for and Energy Efficient Economy, 9/4/2014 

Ask the Energy Experts: District heating system feasibility depends on many factors

Are there examples of district heating systems providing heat to new housing developments? A local developer of large luxury homes is incorporating conservation and renewable technologies, and wants to investigate district heat using ground-coupled heat pumps or biomass-fueled boilers.

District heating projects involve many variables, such as the cost of energy, the installed cost of the system, possible revenue from each part of the system, maintenance costs and more. Local climate and regulations, access to funds and available renewable resources must be considered as well when evaluating the feasibility of an individual project. Finally, each proposed system should be planned and designed as a long-term investment. That being said, the technology is a highly efficient means of delivering heat, and a new development offers the best-case payback for installing a district heating system.

Heat, electricity
Where houses are close together and a source of otherwise wasted energy is available, combined heat and power (CHP) systems can provide cost-effective heat to large numbers of customers. In lower-density areas, installing and maintaining piping—especially underground systems—is often prohibitively expensive.

Your development may be a good candidate for a CHP system. These systems use a turbine or diesel engine to generate electricity for on-site use and for sale to the local electrical utility. Most of the waste heat from the process is captured for use by a district heating system to heat homes and domestic hot water. Several college campuses around the country have installed CHP district heating systems. The International District Energy AssociationRedirecting to a non-government site has case studies of some of these projects.

Biofuels such as wood, agricultural waste, garbage, or nearly anything else that will burn are a potential low-cost source of energy for CHP district heating systems. The feasibility of using any fuel depends on several factors – cost (including transportation), volume of fuel available, heating and electrical loads, construction and operating cost of the facility, and the value of the electricity produced.

Direct geothermal
If you have a source of geothermal hot water available, it can be used in a non-CHP district heating system. Boise, Idaho, boasts the first commercially successful geothermal district heating system in the United States, installed in 1897. The system provides 4,000 gallons per minute of geothermal water at 179 degrees Fahrenheit to city businesses and residences. Other locations, mostly in the West, have installed similar district heating systems since then.

The Oregon Institute of Technology Geo-Heat CenterRedirecting to a non-government site (GHC) offers a brief overview of several existing direct-use district geothermal heat systems throughout the Western United States.  The GHC website also contains a list of consultants experienced in all phases of implementing geothermal heating systems, as well as other valuable resources for planners and designers considering this technology.

You also expressed an interest in using geo-exchange (geo-x) heat pumps to supply heat for a district heating system. In a district heating application—regardless of how large or small the system—the greater efficiency of heat pump technology might offset the high first cost of system installation.  Normally, district heating systems are considered an option when the developer has access to a renewable heating resource, such as hot springs or other geothermal resources.  However, the feasibility of adding geo-x heat pumps to each home and business to heat water should be carefully evaluated.

The benefits of integrating technologies and incorporating innovative design into your system depend on your overall goals for the housing development, financial and otherwise. It would be worthwhile to compare the cost of different options:  building a district heating system, installing individual geo-x heat pumps with a desuperheater (heat exchange unit for water heating) or integrating the two technologies. You may be surprised at which option is most cost-effective.

Additional Information Resources
A search of the Energy Solutions DatabaseRedirecting to a non-government site yields several resources on the topic of biofuels. The DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has a comprehensive Biomass website.

Here are some more case studies you might find useful:

DOE launches new CHP technical assistance partnerships

Since 2003, the Energy Department has supported a set of regional centers to help organizations understand how combined heat and power (CHP) can improve their bottom lines and lower energy bills. Today, the Advanced Manufacturing Office announced the launch of seven regional CHP Technical Assistance Partnerships, the next generation of these centers.

The new CHP Technical Assistance Partnerships are promoting the benefits of CHP, waste heat-to-power and district energy, and assisting with market transformation by supporting CHP projects throughout the United States. Located in California, Colorado, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington state; these offices will support analyses of CHP market opportunities, offer information on the energy and non-energy benefits and applications of CHP, and provide technical assistance to end-users considering CHP at their facility.

 To introduce businesses to the basics of this efficient and cost-effective technology, the Energy Department has published a CHP fact sheet and Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About CHP. Source: DOE EERE Advanced Manufacturing Office, 10/22/13

Presentations available from EPA webinars

Find out what you missed at the  free webinars on renewable energy, presented by the Environmental Protection Agency. Presentations are available on the website to download.