Electricity row boosts case for CHP
20 July 2010
Growing pressure on the National Grid and huge controversy over the cost of extending the electricity distribution network should lead to more demand for small-scale Combined Heat and Power (CHP), according to energy experts.Plans for three new high voltage power lines were announced this week by the National Grid, which also plans to campaign for 12 more similar schemes and intends to upgrade many existing systems. This represents the biggest expansion of the electricity system in over 50 years as the Grid looks to increase total capacity from 78 gigawatts to 115 gigawatts by 2050 to meet rising demand.
However, it costs £1.6 million to run one mile of cable via overhead pylons and £20m per mile if the Grid is forced to bury some cables underground in areas of outstanding beauty such as Snowdonia and the Mendip Hills where new systems are proposed.Hundreds of miles of new cables are proposed, prompting building services experts to question the economics.
“Even more expensive centrally generated electricity cannot be the long-term answer,” said Professor Phil Jones, chairman of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) CHP Group. “The enormous cost of expanding a network that is less than 40 per cent efficient anyway, due to transmission losses and the heat thrown away during the generation process, simply does not stack up.
“We now have a great opportunity to develop local power generation using thousands of small-scale CHP systems that capture and use the waste heat and eliminate transmission losses,” he added.
A large proportion of the new network will be used to connect the Grid to remote wind farms in the North of Scotland and around the coast where there is no existing power infrastructure.
This raises further questions about the viability of some of the new sources of electrical power and the impact on users’ fuel bills.
“It is clearly bonkers to generate so much electricity centrally,” said David Shaw, Business Manager of CHP provider Baxi-SenerTec UK. “Power stations waste huge amounts by throwing all the heat generated by the process away and then make it even worse by adding transmission losses on top.
“Massive offshore wind farms are, clearly, an option, but the wind has the most inconvenient habit of refusing to blow at the right times,” added Mr Shaw. “This means you also have to build plenty of backup gas or coal-fired power generation to cover peak times.
You also need 25 gigawatts of wind capacity to replace every 5 gigawatts of conventional power for the same reason. Add those costs to these new expensive distribution networks and you are looking at a totally unaffordable strategy.
“The Grid is in deep trouble and we face major blackouts in the near future. We must quickly find alternative sources of electricity that offer security of supply using tried and tested technology,” said Mr Shaw. “The fact that CHP provides low cost electricity, as well as heating, close to the point of use puts it in a very strong position.
We are receiving a growing number of enquiries for our Dachs CHP systems from a wide range of building owners looking to reduce their carbon emissions and secure affordable, long-term power supply solutions.”
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