One of the characteristics of our electricity infrastructure is that much of our power is generated at a relatively small number of capital-intensive facilities. With today’s technology, these facilities generate power at about 30% efficiency. While this has been the most economical way to generate cheap power, there are also downsides. The plants and the transmission grid are vulnerable terrorist attacks and to storms like Hurricane Sandy.
One potential solution is to bring the power generation closer to the user, especially institutions like hospitals and universities that use large amounts of power within a relatively small area. Such technology exists – it’s called Combined Heat and Power (CHP).
Not only does CHP provide electricity, but as the name implies, it also can supply heat (or air conditioning) to these institutions. CHP plants can operate at up to 80% efficiency.
The downside is that these plants operate using natural gas. As one Blue Jersey writer notes, natural gas is a contributor to global warming.
Nevertheless, until our government is willing to commit to an all-out Apollo-like effort to wean ourselves from dirty fuels (not an impossibility, as Germany is demonstrating), natural gas is a better bridge to the future than coal, and does not have the long-term disposal problems of nuclear fuel waste.
Today, the Assembly Utilities Committee passed a bill on to the full chamber that would give large power users incentives to utilize CHP. I spoke with the committee’s chair, Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, about this and also about the governor’s dismal record on renewable energy.