Cogeneration is a useful means to dramatically improve the energy efficiency of thermal power plants by generating simultaneously electricity and heat or cold.
A conventional power plant generates electricity by combusting a fuel which creates heat that again is used to heat water for steam production after which the steam drives a steam turbine and generator which finally turns the heat and then mechanical energy into useful electricity. Unfortunately, not all heat that is produced can be used in electricity production which means that energy losses occur. This waste heat is often ventilated into the air via the iconic cooling towers.
Cogeneration, also called Combined Heat and Power (CHP), provides a useful alternative which allows us to use almost all energy produced and thus reduce energy losses to the minimum. With cogeneration (or CHP) the heat is captured and transported to nearby industries that use the heat as input for their industrial processes or to nearby buildings and households who can heat their space and water to a comfortable temperature. In addition, the cogeneration process can also be used to produce cold which is especially attractive in the warmer Southern European climate.
Through CHP technologies we can make better use of our resources and provide heating and cooling to millions of homes around Europe. By doing so, we can achieve energy savings of around 15 to 40%. This means that there is a potential to almost double the efficiency of the existing European thermal power fleet from 49.7% to around 90% (data from the European Environmental Agency).
CHP plants can be of both small and big in size and can use a wide range of different technologies for their energy generation processes. The technologies that can be used range from boilers and turbines to engines and fuel cells. Furthermore, the energy input or the fuel can differ completely per plant. Current cogeneration technologies can make use of - among others - fossil fuels, bioenergy, solar energy, and hydrogen. In the future, cogeneration has the potential to become entirely carbon neutral when it will be powered by bioenergy, solar energy or clean gases such as hydrogen. Already, power plants making use of these clean fuels are existing and new ones are continuously being built by our members.
To ensure that we make the best use of this efficient and much-needed technology, Energy Technologies Europe promotes legislation that appropriately recognises all the benefits of CHP installations. In the past, ETE has already worked on legislation setting standards for cogeneration as well as the development of incentives to switch to cogeneration.