Unlike the towering turbines and sleek-looking panels used in wind and solar energy, there is no easily identifiable symbol to depict energy generated by combined heat and power systems.
CHP, also known as cogeneration, is a single system that generates both thermal energy and electricity. CHP systems operate at efficiency levels between 65 percent and 75 percent, making them more efficient than conventional and separate systems for electricity and heat, which run at about 50 percent efficiency.
“It’s not a visually appealing technology, but it’s definitely an effective technology that not a lot of folks are aware exists,” said Cliff Haefke, director of the Energy Resources Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Haefke and his colleagues are hoping to change that, thanks in part to a new $4.2 million U.S. Department of Energy grant awarded to UIC to advance combined heat and power technologies throughout the Midwest. UIC will manage one of eight DOE regional centers to promote CHP systems in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin.
As part of the grant, Haefke’s team will analyze and identify markets where CHP systems could make sense, conduct outreach about the benefits of the technology and provide technical assistance to organizations that are interested in CHP systems for their facilities.
“Education is a key component,” Haefke said. “We’ve come to realize that not a lot of folks even know what CHP is. There are a lot of industry applications that could benefit from this. Energy rates are going up, so it’s a way to combat the increasing electricity rates.”
Over the next five years, Haefke and about seven other staff members will work with universities, hospitals, industrial plants and other types of organizations across the Midwest that are interested in exploring CHP.
The effort is a continuation of UIC’s existing work in CHP, but allows for the university to conduct more education and promotion for the technology, Haefke said.
Another goal of the grant is to help make local power grids more resilient to the potential damage caused by natural disasters. When businesses or other organizations implement CHP systems at their facilities, Haefke said they become better equipped to manage fallout from storms or other destructive events because they’re able to generate power on-site. They also take pressure off aging regional power grids.
“If the utility grid does go down from a natural disaster, these [systems] can provide extra resiliency for a facility and that can be quite beneficial, to make sure you’re up and running [after the event],” he said.
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