A powerful future beckons for CHP

Chris Marsland technical director for ENER-G Cogen International, explains why the combined heat and power industry will continue to play an important role in the future of the UK’s energy mix.

Demand side response, climate change, greener buildings, the growth of district heating and smart grids, and the need to improve energy productivity, are all reasons why CHP will remain an important part of the UK’s energy generation mix.

The UK’s energy industry is coping with a turbulent transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and the need to maintain energy security. One of the weakest links in the current energy supply chain is wasted heat. Forty per cent of the UK’s energy is used to generate heat energy; and heat wasted from buildings accounts for half of our total energy emissions.

In the current market of low and declining wholesale gas prices and with tax-saving opportunities, such as exemption from the Climate Change Levy for small scale installations, the attractiveness of CHP is still strong, whether it is connected to a single building or to a network of buildings. And with security of energy supply now of increasing importance, onsite CHP is key to the decentralised energy generation mix.

The UK’s national electricity grid is under significant strain. The latest of many warnings comes from analyst Enappsys, which says that that tighter power supplies in the coming winter will force National Grid to depend more extensively on its last-resort measures in order to meet demand.

Decentralised energy generation using on-site CHP is already playing a vital role in securing supply at peak times as a key plank of National Grid’s Demand Side Balancing Reserve (DSBR) and Turn Up schemes. Through such incentives, CHP generators are able to generate extra income by exporting power onto the national grid to meet capacity constraints, or turning off supply, or shifting loads to compensate for excess renewable generation when demand for electricity is low.

The use of CHP and other decentralised supplies, such as diesel and renewables, is being taken to a new level of demand response via smart grids, such as the Smart Cornwall project, which plans to develop the UK’s first integrated smart energy network. Research undertaken by ENER-G in partnership with Advanced Digital Institute; Flexitricity; Smarter Grid Solutions and UK Power Networks has provided simulations to demonstrate the potential of clusters of CHP assets in a decentralised smart-grid or virtual network.

CHP systems have rotating momentum that helps stabilise the network and manage system stresses when there is wide fluctuation in power output, as is the case with intermittent sources such as wind and solar. With the growth of renewables, which accounted for almost a quarter of UK electricity generation in 2015, much more is now being asked of CHP via the new European Network Codes, such as Requirements for Generators (RfG). Modifications to equipment will enable transmission system operators to ensure they are able to access a sufficient amount of energy to balance the growing differences between supply and demand on their network.

Greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution continue to be a hot topic.

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