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Mission critical facilities like hospitals and university campuses depend on reliable (and typically redundant) energy sources to operate. In the event of a utility failure, natural disaster, or other catastrophe, these facilities need to know that they will be able to keep the power on and serve their communities continuously.

Today, many organizations are turning to cogeneration, a proven and increasingly cost-effective strategy, to achieve a higher degree of facility resilience. On-site cogeneration allows facilities to not only generate electric power for critical systems with a high degree of efficiency, but also produce thermal energy in the form of steam, hot water, or chilled water.

Redundancy and Emergency

Most commonly, a cogeneration plant burns natural gas (with No. 2 fuel oil as back-up fuel) in order to generate electricity – and then leverages waste heat from the combustion process for steam or hot water.

The most efficient way to utilize a cogeneration plant is to generate as much power as it requires to meet your facilities’ heating needs, drawing additional electricity from the utility. But cogeneration equipment can be and often is designed to provide uninterruptible electric power as well as bumpless transfers between the utility and on-site generation, giving the owner continuous power availability if the utility experiences an outage.

This flexibility provides facilities with a great deal of flexibility, but a cogeneration plant’s capacity for independence can go further. For facilities built to protect people, equipment, products, data, and other important resources, a cogeneration unit built with black start and island-mode capabilities helps ensure that a facility can fulfill its mission even when public utilities have spontaneously failed.

Because of these capabilities, cogeneration-powered facilities have helped communities weather lengthy outages resulting from major disasters such as Hurricane Sandy. As organizations seek to bolster their resilience and independence in the decades ahead, cogeneration represents an investment that not only safeguards people and resources but helps owners achieve a higher degree of efficiency going forward.

At What Price?

Some owners are surprised to learn that the decision to install a cogeneration plant is not necessarily a choice between cost and energy security. In fact, for many mission critical facilities such as hospitals, university campuses, corrections facilities and industrial plants, investment in a cogeneration plant can actually help owners achieve financial savings when compared to current electric and natural gas rates and additional redundant equipment and electric feeders requirements.

The up-front cost of cogeneration units will often exceed the cost of alternatives such as standby diesel generators or redundant boilers – but the substantial utility cost savings that can often be achieved through cogeneration provide a highly advantageous return on the investment over time.

Facility owners who are seeking dependable sources of electrical power and heat energy would be well-advised to investigate the costs and benefits of utilizing cogeneration as part of their energy security strategy. New facilities or facilities already making major updates to their heating and power systems are particularly well-positioned to realize the cost savings and increased resilience that cogeneration can offer.

Eric joined Fosdick & Hilmer in 2000, and is now the Manager of Mechanical Engineering as well as the Lead Engineer within the Central Utilities Group. Eric is an expert in the design and analysis of central heating and cooling plants and distribution systems. During his time with the firm, Eric has been the project manager for numerous central plant and distribution projects including steam and chilled water plants, combined heat and power systems, fuel oil storage, and integrated HVAC systems.