In a Letter to the Editor of The News & Observer, Dr. Zachary Kuznar, Director, CHP microgrids and energy storage development, at Duke Energy in Charlotte, NC wrote that “William H. Schlesinger’s Nov. 23 Point of View ‘Duke University plant would turn away from renewable energy’ appeared to be more about global warming than anything related to this local project. There’s a good reason for that.” He continues:
If a new project would save us $2 million a year and lower our emissions to the environment, we’d be hard pressed to say it’s a bad idea for anyone involved. The facts are hard to ignore. Duke University is a member of the International District Energy Association (IDEA).
Currently, Duke University already burns an enormous amount of natural gas to supply steam and hot water to the campus. That need will continue. However, with this new plant, the university will use 50 percent less natural gas to create that steam. And the university’s overall costs will go down.
It will also result in a significant decrease in carbon dioxide emissions – not only for Duke University, but for more North Carolina customers.
Called combined heat and power (CHP), this technology is already in action at 8,000 sites around the nation and more than 200 universities like Princeton, Harvard, MIT and Yale. The technology uses natural gas to generate electricity and then captures almost all of the waste heat of that process to create steam and hot water.
Basically, the process uses as much of the energy potential as possible – up to 40 percent more efficient than other types of power generation. To make the project as beneficial as possible, the 21-megawatt project is being sized to meet the university’s thermal needs, while also providing back-up generation to meet critical loads. The positive implications are hard to ignore. No wonder that back in 2012, President Obama advocated for 200 more CHP projects to be online in the nation by 2020.
According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the location at Duke University makes sense, too. “Locating the CHP system at or near the thermal host allows the generation to be close to electric demand, deferring or avoiding the need for utilities to make upgrades to transmission and distribution and system asset, while also reducing system losses,” the organization said in a filing with the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
The project will not only benefit Duke University. It will also be a portfolio asset of Duke Energy and put power on the energy grid. Revenue gained from the sale of steam to the university will be returned to all customers. When all the numbers are crunched, it will be cost-competitive with our much larger natural gas-fueled power facilities.
Critics of the plant seem to be near-sighted in their view. Like Schlesinger, they talk about change but haven’t offered a reliable, cost-effective solution to make it happen. They do not appear to have a balanced, thorough and informed grasp of the university’s overall energy needs.
Rapid growth continues at Duke University as new buildings and dorms are built. Duke Energy is also seeing energy growth as more customers locate to the Carolinas. If new, around-the- clock generation needs to be built, why not make it as cost-effective as possible?
See also: AGA: Duke University is smart to build a gas-fueled power plant