Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Combined Heat and Power

This article is part of the series highlighting the “Top Things You Didn’t Know About…” Be sure to check back for more entries soon.

10. Often called cogeneration or CHP, a combined heat and power system provides both electric power and heat from a single fuel source. While most power plants in the U.S. create steam as a byproduct that is then expelled as wasted heat, a CHP system captures the energy that would normally be lost in power generation and uses it to provide heating and cooling to factories and businesses.

9. Every year, more energy is lost as wasted heat in power generation in the U.S. than the total energy use of Japan. CHP cuts this amount of wasted energy nearly in half.

8. CHP has been used in the United States for more than 100 years since Thomas Edison used it to power the world’s first commercial power plant. Decentralized CHP systems located at industrial and municipal sites became the foundation of the U.S.’s early electric power industry. However, as power generation technologies advanced, the power industry began to build larger central station facilities to take advantage of increasing economies of scale.

7. Did you know? The U.S. Capitol Building and congressional buildings will soon be powered by a CHP plant. This summer, the Architect of the Capitol started designing a CHP plant that would generate approximately 18 megawatts of electricity and provide steam heat to congressional buildings. Once completed, the Capitol will join the list of other government organizations -- like the General Services Administration and the National Institutes of Health -- that operate CHP facilities.

6. CHP systems can use a diverse set of fuels to operate -- from natural gas and biomass to coal and process wastes -- and there are no limitations on where they can be deployed.

5. Currently, the U.S. has an installed capacity of over 82 gigawatts of CHP at more than 4,100 industrial and commercial facilities. That’s equal to 8 percent of the U.S.’s current generating capacity.

4. Many hospitals, schools, university campuses, hotels, nursing homes, office buildings and apartment complexes are turning to CHP systems to save on energy costs, increase energy reliability and cut carbon pollution. As of 2012, commercial buildings and institutional applicants represented 13 percent of CHP systems in the United States.

3. Last year, President Obama set a goal of 40 gigawatts of new, cost-effective CHP by 2020. Meeting this goal would save American manufacturers and companies $10 billion each year in energy costs, result in $40 to $80 billion in new capital investment in plants and facilities that would create American jobs, and reduce carbon pollution by 150 million metric tons -- that's equal to the emissions of more then 25 million cars.

2. Since 2003, the Energy Department has been working to grow the CHP market through technical assistance partnerships -- most recently with seven new projects that will operate regionally and collectively across the U.S. Between 2009 and 2012, the partnerships have provided technical support to more than 440 CHP projects -- helping U.S. manufacturers, businesses, hospitals and universities understand how CHP can improve their bottom lines, lower energy bills and help protect our air and water.

1. During and after Hurricane Sandy, CHP systems played a key role in enabling hospitals, universities, schools and residential buildings to continue operations when the electricity grid went down in the hardest-hit localities -- proving that CHP is a sound choice in making our energy infrastructure more resilient in the face of extreme weather events.