Home > Cogeneration could be the answer to our energy woes – Part 2

Cogeneration could be the answer to our energy woes – Part 2

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Continued from Part 1

In the 1980s, as the Netherlands was starting to embrace cogeneration, Dr Klimstra and his team organised a small group of well-trained engineers who went to industries and explained the technology, and also helped with tuning of installations.

This ultimately resulted in a mass take-up of cogeneration. Today, in the Netherlands, 35 percent of all electricity is produced with co-generation. In Denmark, this figure is over 40 percent.

According to Dr Klimstra, given the entire point of cogeneration is in efficiency and optimisation, the commissioning stage is the most important part of implementation, thus requiring the most specialist expertise.

"For commissioning, you need a multi-disciplinary engineer who knows about electricity, heat and emissions," Dr Klimstra said.

He suggested having small groups of experts who can commission installations, utilising the right equipment for measuring emissions, stability of the installation, performance, and efficiency, in order to yield optimum performance from the investment.

Future technologies

Dr Klimstra has high hopes about the future role of cogeneration in an ever-evolving energy landscape. However, he is not so optimistic about the application of newer technologies.

While there is a lot of potential for fuel cells to be implemented in cogeneration plants, Dr Klimstra says they are too sensitive to environmental variables to be of very much use in cogeneration plants, which are often used in harsh environments.

As part of a supervisory committee of a research institute in the Netherlands, Dr Klimstra has been privy to research into fuel cells over the past 25 years, having seen test results for the use of various types, including phosphoric acid fuel cells, molten carbonate fuel cells, and solid oxide fuel cells.

"Fuel cells are too complicated," Dr Klimstra said. "They are sensitive to minor components in the gas like sulphur. When a truck passes with a little bit of sulphur in the diesel and it comes out of the exhaust, and the air is fed into fuel cell, the fuel cell deteriorates."

However, the hardy nature of some cogeneration installations means many other technologies and fuel sources are compatible with such systems.

Application flexibility

Systems integrating a dual-fuel reciprocating engine, for example, can run on natural gas, bio-gas, diesel and bio-diesel, providing application flexibility.

For developing countries, for example, with areas which do not have access to power lines, such cogeneration systems provide a way forward. They can initially run off diesel in order to provide electricity and heating.

As the economy grows and infrastructure is introduced, the system can then be converted to use gas, allowing it to run cheaper and cleaner.

With the simple nature of engines making cogeneration systems effectively fuel-agnostic, cogeneration systems can exploit newer generations of energy sources, such as bio-gases, and fuels converted from waste.

The Netherlands, for example, is running a project to collect municipal waste, and convert it into synthetic gas. The gas can then be made into a liquid fuel and used to run engines in cogeneration plants.

"Some of the heat will be used for treating the waste, but you also produce electricity for the grid," explained Dr Klimstra. "So the amount of waste is substantially reduced, and you make sustainable energy from it."

Photovoltaic systems

Cogeneration systems also have a role to play with other renewable energy sources. According to Dr Klimstra, a distributed network of cogeneration plants could be a solution to current limitations of photovoltaic systems, namely, that they do not generate electricity at night.

"With cogeneration systems locally, you have an excellent way to provide backup power," he said. "The systems are fast, and require relatively low investment. It can run on biogases, so if you have sewage treatment systems, you can use the biogases from there to run the cogeneration system."

"The future will be a kind of integrated system, solar PV, wind power, available hydropower, geothermal power, and at the same time, cogeneration power as backup for these renewables."

Cogeneration could also contribute to the current trends towards decentralised energy generation, which Dr Klimstra says would contribute to supply reliability.

For example, an industrial park could have a cogeneration installation in every facility, each of which feeds excess electricity into the grid.

Such a configuration means every factory has its own backup power even if the main grid fails, with the added advantage of having a stable source of power from the network of other plants if its local unit fails.

Government role

Dr Klimstra hopes the government will help in laying down the regulatory foundations which will encourage the use of cogeneration plants. "Compared to what you have in Europe, Australia has just a minimal amount of these cogeneration installations," he said.

"The government should acknowledge that cogeneration is one of the best ways of saving energy. If you want to reduce your ecological footprint to comply with the rules of the rest of the world, then cogeneration is the best solution."

Having a robust feed-in tariff scheme, for example, would encourage plants to install their own cogeneration plant for faster return on investment.

Other possible moves would include the establishment of standards around the safety, emissions and performance of cogeneration plants, and establishing training and certification programs for professionals specialising in these systems.

For Dr Klimstra, the case for cogeneration is a simple one: continue throwing energy away in the form of inefficiency, or make full use of every drop of fuel. That, he says, is one of the biggest opportunities for Australia's industries today.

[Dr Jacob Klimstra is Senior Energy and Engine Specialist, Jacob Klimstra Consultancy, The Netherlands.]

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