The answer is yes, according to Fleetsolve CEO Keith O’Connor, and RMB Energie CEO Henning Brake, who joined a panel discussion at the Installer Show to tackle the challenges facing today’s energy managers.
Keith and Henning discussed the opportunities and challenges of the energy transition – and how combined heat and power (CHP) can play a role in delivering clean, resilient, and futureproof power. Here we’ve rounded up the top 7 takeaways from the session.
- Futureproof your energy supply – it’s a volatile market
“Customers are seeing challenges around the risks of relying on natural gas, particularly in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” said Henning. “Gas is still available, but it’s clear that customers want to futureproof their supply by diversifying.”
Henning advised that other fuels should be on the table if organisations want to manage the risk of low supply. “That’s where CHP units come in – they operate on multi-fuels. If there is no natural gas, you can use syn-gas, LPG, rDME or hydrogen,” he said. “The important thing is that it is independent from the grid. And it also integrates with battery storage, so that you can store energy if you don’t need it”.
- Technology providers need to collaborate, not compete.
“Ten years ago we were just talking about the benefits of CHP as a standalone system,” said Keith. “Now we are talking about integrating it with other onsite renewables. That’s how you achieve the best decarbonisation outcome.”
Keith gave the example of South-West College in Northern Ireland, which has adopted a combined system using all types of technology: biofuel micro-CHP, solar PV, heat pumps and battery storage within a Passivhaus design. The result is that the campus is only consuming a small amount of grid energy, protecting it from volatile grid prices as well as vastly reducing its carbon footprint. “It’s about bringing it what’s best, rather than relying on just one machine. Micro-CHP is the heart, providing a resilient source of heat and power, but you don’t want to run the engine when you don’t need to. Other technology fills the gaps where appropriate.”
For it to work, it’s important that specifiers take a holistic approach to specification, and involve technology providers at the initial planning stage, for a consultative and collaborative approach.
- Don’t dismiss gas just yet – we’re not ready for electrification!
“Natural gas is demonised. But the reality is, it will still be around for up to the next ten years,” said Keith. “Electrification is the buzz word, and it’s absolutely where we need to get to, but people are over-accelerating reality. It is the future but only when we can address grid capacity constraints. We need to manage the transition, and we need government frameworks to help.”
The solution lies in reliable onsite generation. Keith cited the example of a bus provider that has electrified its fleet but can’t use grid electricity due to the increased load. “At the depot, there isn’t enough power to charge all the vehicles. So here we’re using multiple micro-CHPs and multiple batteries. They link with solar PV to manage the final output and requirement.”
- Renewables and energy security aren’t mutually exclusive.
Henning discussed the benefits of micro-CHP as an off-grid power source. “CHP has a ‘black start’ – meaning that it can run when there’s no grid electricity,” he said. “We are working with a dental practice that performs a lot of surgeries. They need to know that they can complete the surgery even without power. It’s the same with hospitals, on a larger scale.”
The commercial case stacks up, too. “Our micro-CHP Neotower has over 100% efficiency, so it generates energy at a much lower cost than the grid,” said Henning. “And of course, the waste heat is free and can be used for space heating, so there are cost savings there too. Companies can use this ROI to justify Capex spend, or there are funding options too.”
- Don’t forget demand reduction.
Energy efficiency is crucial for the energy transition, a point that that the panellists drove home.
Keith said, “REDUCE is the key word – how much can we reduce our energy demand before we even start? Think about energy efficient lighting, insulation, behaviour change, occupancy sensors etc. Only then should you think about CHP or other renewables, and their role in providing the power.”
- Hydrogen WILL have its place – but it’s not the silver bullet.
Keith sees a key role for hydrogen in decarbonising heavy industry and transport, alongside blending it with natural gas for onsite heating. “It’s not the silver bullet, but it will be a collaboration fuel,” he said. “It’s a carrier of energy, and we need to learn how to use excess renewable energy to generate hydrogen.”
Henning cited possible scenarios for local hydrogen production using solar PV and an electrolyser. “If you could produce hydrogen when the sun is shining, and then store it, then it opens up more opportunities for hydrogen,” he said.
Keith agreed. “In North Wales they are trialling hydrogen production using rainwater – this sort of innovation is one to watch.”
- Perfect is the enemy of good. So just get started.
Henning closed the session with some advice. “You don’t have to do everything at once – but CHP will futureproof your journey. Even if it is initially fuelled with natural gas, you are already making huge energy efficiency gains as the electricity is produced onsite with no losses, and the heat produced is not wasted, but is used for your heating. You can then move towards cleaner fuels such as hydrogen or biofuel at a later date, and integrate it with other onsite renewables as you get the funding. You won’t decarbonise your estate overnight – but the important thing is to just get started.”
Do you have an energy security or onsite decarbonisation challenge? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for advice on how Combined Heat and Power could help you and your business.