Cogenerators Essay

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Cogenerators use waste heat from one activity to supply heat or energy to at least one other activity. They have the capacity to reduce the amount of energy used (especially energy derived from fossil fuels) to accomplish more work without sacrificing convenience and comfort. Cogeneration is also called combined heat and power (CHP). Cogeneration technologies were given a major boost in the United States with the passage of the Public Utilities Regulatory Policies Act of 1978, which allowed competition in the generation of electricity.

Public utilities were required to purchase electricity from alternative sources, which included solar power, wind power, or cogeneration. The policy goal was to increase the amount of electricity generated in the United States, while reducing the costs along with the nation’s dependence upon large coal and nuclear power plants. A further benefit was decentralization.

Hydroelectric power plants use water to generate electrical power. Thermal electrical power plants burn either a fossil fuel-natural gas, oil, or coal-or they use nuclear fuel. Whole trainloads of coal are millions of cubic feet of natural gas are burned, which heats water to very hot steam. The steam, under pressure, is used to turn the blades of a turbine fan. The fan blades drive magnets around electric wires, which generate electric current and heat. Even the most efficient of engines or production systems is unable to convert all of the fuel expended into energy. There is always some waste with the entropy described by the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

Historically, the heat was a by-product that was not used. It was dispersed with cooling towers, gas flues, or by other means. Cogeneration captures the waste heat and uses it for other purposes, greatly improving the efficiency of the whole operation. Waste heat may be used in a cogeneration system to power a second furnace that produces smaller amounts of electricity. In cold climates, the heat may be piped to heat homes, offices, and other buildings. Scandinavian and continental European countries have used cogeneration extensively because of their higher fuel costs.

Cogeneration can be used most efficiently when the secondary application is close physically to the primary use. Large operations such as hotels, universities, wastewater treatment plants, industrial plants, or other facilities that consume large quantities of fuel for lighting and heating are natural locations for cogeneration. A common example of cogeneration is the use of the automobile heater in wintertime. The heat from the engine cannot be used to power the automobile; however, it is used to heat its interior for comfort of the passengers. Futuristic visions of new cities use cogeneration extensively. Waste heat would be used not only for further energy production, but also for growing crops in the city’s greenhouses.


  1. Philip Kiameh, Power Generation Handbook: Selection, Applications, Operation, Maintenance (McGraw-Hill, 2002);
  2. F. William Payne, Cogeneration Management Reference Guide (Fairmont Press, 1997);
  3. Neil Petchers, Combined Heating, Cooling & Power Handbook Technologies & Applications: An Integrated Approach to Energy Resource Optimization (Fairmont Press, 2003);
  4. Alan Thumann and Paul Mehta, Handbook of Energy Engineering (Marcel Dekker, 2001).

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