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Natural Gas Keeps the Lights On

Key Points
  • Combined heat and power systems improve power reliability.
  • Other benefits include reduced costs and lower emissions.
  • System efficiencies of above 90 percent are possible.

When the next storm comes around, many commercial and industrial facilities won't have to worry about losing power and the subsequent revenue loss. Why? Facilities with combined heat and power (CHP) systems know they have a reliable source of power when fueled with natural gas. Here are five examples:

1. Aberdeen Proving Ground (Maryland) improved its military preparedness with a 7.9-megawatt (MW) natural gas CHP system. The system provides 86 percent of the site's steam supply and offsets 50 percent of its electricity use, saving around $4.4 million per year. Energy resiliency is the name of the game and the CHP system is playing a major role.

2. A $96 million CHP plant at the University of Minnesota is helping protect hundreds of millions of dollars of research in the event of a catastrophe. The plant includes two 7-MW gas-fired turbines and heat recovery steam generators, generating enough steam to heat the entire campus and cover around half of its electricity demand. The plant reduces the campus carbon footprint by 10 percent and annual utility costs by an estimated $1.9 million.

3. Patients at the Upper Chesapeake Medical Center (Maryland) are remaining safe and healthy because of an on-site CHP system, which serves as the primary power source for the hospital's electrical load. The system consists of a 2-MW natural gas fired generator, a 350-ton absorption chiller and a heat recovery steam generator. The steam is used in the absorption chiller, building steam loop and converted for use in other hydronic systems. During a prolonged outage, the CHP and the existing emergency generator can maintain more than 60 percent of the loads.

4. The Horseshoe Casino (Maryland) is betting on its trigeneration system to provide a significant portion of its energy, heating and cooling needs. The system, optimized for natural gas use, produces 1,149 kilowatts of electricity and 4.1 million Btus of heat per hour. Total system efficiency is between 88 and 92 percent. Carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by up to 50 percent.

5. National Gypsum's wallboard manufacturing facility in New Jersey won't have to worry about production downtime because of its CHP gas turbine system. The project produces 3.4 MW of electricity and delivers more than 30 MMBtu of thermal energy per hour, resulting in an overall efficiency of greater than 90 percent. The turbine's waste heat is used for the dryer.

To operate during a utility system outage, a CHP system must have:

  • Black start capability, in which an electrical signal from an on-site battery or backup generator turns on the CHP system when there's an outage.
  • Electric generator with inverter, which conditions the power to make it suitable for interconnection to the local utility grid.
  • Transfer switch safeguards for synchronous generators, which ensures that the CHP system can't export power to the unpowered grid while down, which could injure utility personnel or equipment.
  • Parallel utility interconnection and switchgear control to shut down non-critical loads and prevent overloading the generator capacity.

To determine if CHP is right for your facility, download this screening tool from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.