Cogeneration in Copenhagen

Another Sunday article worth reading is Neil Peirce’s most recent column, in which he touts the virtues of cogeneration as a technology for district heating. He writes:

The setup in Copenhagen, created by a regional accord of five mayors in 1984, captures heated water from electricity production that would normally be pumped into the sea, and channels it back into homes and businesses for heating through a 1,300-kilometer system of underground pipes.

The result: 97 percent of the region now gets clean and affordable heating with sharply reduced carbon emissions. The system’s steadily switched from coal to natural gas and biofuels such as straw and wood pellets. Plus, it taps waste heat from incineration plants.

The result: Copenhagen’s individual homeowners save close to $2,000 in yearly utility costs. And the system reduces carbon emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons each year.

There is nothing new about cogeneration heating — many American cities employed it once upon a time. I believe that Richmond has a complex of old district heating ducts in the Capitol area. The trick is to adapt cogeneration to modern times. The challenge isn’t technology or economics, it is institutional inertia and the increased complexity of our society that makes it difficult to execute any kind of communal enterprise.

Perhaps the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals & Energy could survey Virginia cities to see where cogeneration could be readily applied. Or maybe some enterprising developer could design a real estate/power project near — dare I suggest it — a municipal dump where it could tap the biofuels.


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12 responses to “Cogeneration in Copenhagen”

  1. Well you've sort of proven that it's conceptually possible for a city (er NUR) to be more self-sustaining.

    YES!

    If you generate the electricity inside the urban area and do the same with waste – then you could recycle the heat but if you put these facilities outside the cities – you cannot.

    Right?

    I notice that Virginia is STILL a favorite destination for New York region trash…

    we actually generate MORE green house gases TRANSPORTING TRASH which then congests highways to boot.

    I propose one small rule for cities.

    They cannot export pollution – period.

    Within their borders – they must have "energy balance".

  2. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    "Or maybe some enterprising developer could design a real estate/power project near — dare I suggest it — a municipal dump where it could tap the biofuels."

    We have one of those down here. It's called SPSA. The only thing they have been burning is the taxpayers money.

  3. Excuse me, but 'burning' fuels, be they coal, natural gas or straw produces exhaust, i.e. waste, i.e. those nasty carbon thingies in the air. It may be more or less than coal but it's still there.

    Second, would anyone want to guess the cost of retro fitting cities that don't have the pipes already in place? The ROI would probably take the lifetime of the system.

    Finally, while it works for Copenhagen it's not for all cities. In Houston we use MUCH more air conditioning than we do heat. We air condition probably 6 to 8 months out of the year and use heat 2 to 3 months. No savings here.

    One thing they have done in Houston is to build a thriving underground core. There are a series of Huge tunnels going underground from one block to another. This way you don't have to deal with the heat or the traffic when going from one block/building to another. Pedestrians don't have to deal with traffic, but streets are still available for moving goods and services.

  4. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake
  5. miggsathon Avatar

    Good post, particularly given the massive potential for cogeneration in the U.S. Government estimates suggest there's enough recoverable waste heat at power plants, manufacturing facilities, etc., to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. That's as much as if we took every passenger vehicle off the road. Meanwhile, costs would fall due to increased efficiency.

    Disclosure: I'm associated with Recycled Energy Development, which does this kind of work, so I'm not entirely neutral. But the reason I'm involved is the massive potential. We should be doing much more of this.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    "I propose one small rule for cities.

    They cannot export pollution – period."

    That will pretty much put an end to cities.

    What you propose is IMPOSSIBLE. Cannot be done. Violates the laws of Physics.

    Nice idea for a fantasy, though.

    Not only can a city not export pollution, neither can a sigle home far in the countryside.

    Can't be done, it is impossible.

    Now, the next thing is how low you can get pollution before it doesn't matter. But that is imenslely different form having no pollution, particularly with 7 billion people on the planet.

    So, how do yo decide when it doesn't matter? What people will put up with?

    Create a market for pollution.

    RH

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    "In Houston we use MUCH more air conditioning than we do heat. We air condition probably 6 to 8 months out of the year and use heat 2 to 3 months. No savings here."

    Not true. You can use waste heat to drive air conditioners. Early refrigerators worked exactly that way: powered by a flame.

    RH

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    "but 'burning' fuels, be they coal, natural gas or straw produces exhaust, i.e. waste, i.e. those nasty carbon thingies in the air. "

    True, but those carbon thingies in the air were already in the air before they were absorbed by plant matter. Therefore burning thse things RECYCLES carbon thingies tha were already in the air whild burning fossil fuels introduces new carbon thingies. Or, rather, really old ones that have not recycled throught the atmosphere for a few million years.

    Carbon thingies, good gawd.

    RH

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    "There are a series of Huge tunnels going underground from one block to another. "

    I wonder what the net energy balance is on those things. They are probably a good idea, but it would be interesting to see the math and the payback.

    RH

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    The biggest market for INDIVIDUAL cogeneration is in Florida. You can buy a cogeneration unit that uses mechanical energy from a natural gas powered engine to turn your heat pump (air conditioner) and depending on the load also generates electricity, then the waste heat is used for hot water.

    RH

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Cogeneration (along with geothermal heat pumps) is one of the most enironmentally friendly AND cost effective technologies available to day. The only thing much better is improved insulation, draft protection and insolation (passive solar).

    Cogeneration is available in multiple sizes from district heating to individual building sytems to individual home systems.

    But, it depends on stable fuel prices to make the investment reliable.

    And, you still need some kind of back up system for when the infrastructure fails.

    RH

  12. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Jim,
    Curiously, downtown Moscow has lots of cogeneration — large steam pipes heating buldings of all kinds. That's the good side. The bad side is that they waste an incredible amount of heat and energy when they create it and transport it. The system dates back to at least the 1930s
    Plus, they shut down all heat (especially for hot water) for one month every summer for "Prophylactic Work." Luckily a previous tenant in my apartment where I lived for six years had installed a small, electric water heater.

    Peter Galuszka

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