How Now, CHP and DG?

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A resurgence of interest is appearing in combined heat and power (CHP) and distributed generation (DG) options in many states, including specific interest from industry and the so-called “MUSH” markets (that is, municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals). Supportive state policies and incentives, technology support by vendors, ESCOs with low capital costs, and environmental incentives are combining to create a more conducive environment for CHP and DG projects. For example, the highly anticipated U.S. EPA rules regulating GHG emissions from existing facilities and supportive state policies will accelerate interest from and implementation by industrials, IT and MUSH market organizations.

CHP and DG projects, when coupled with intelligent energy efficiency from network and system optimization, offer substantial costs savings in industry and commercial uses. Commercial uses could dwarf potential in residential and industrial uses in some states. Smart dollars invested in O&M can finance the replacement of fans, motors, drivers, mechanical and heat needs to maximize CHP and DG efforts. Additionally, as the internet of things evolves, the electricity grid becomes more connected and more powerful with the addition of sensors and IT communications to supply sources. For example, cloud computing vs. server investment can reduce energy costs. Similarly, machine-to-machine (“M2M”) technologies that allow wired and wireless devices to communicate will drive smart manufacturing and innovative supply technologies. If done correctly, this shift will spur capital projects and investments, so long as projects produce quantifiable energy and cost savings over time, on a scale that allows financial pro formas to work and satisfy investors’ return expectations. The net result of these efforts is improved operations and analytical capability to monitor and sustain better system performance.

Common barriers to the implementation of CHP and DG projects have been:

  • Social & knowledge: equipment vs. software and IT involving a lack of technical assistance and better managing the equipment and IT interface;
  • Financial structuring, sources of capital & access: will come with better management, verification, data and protocols;
  • Structural: utilities, public service commissions with policies and regulations that are not modernized to reflect market and technology realities;
  • Traditional & outdated policies represent stale, non-consumer and non-market based thinking that stifle service and economic development;
  • Capital & banking sources with risk management profiles reflect a lack of energy lending experience; and
  • Cash flows that hamper internal hurdle rates of owners or fail to consider available incentives.

The best natural markets with incentives and market inducements based upon collective research and literature review include California, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, New York and Connecticut. States to watch as they design/improve incentives include Texas, Washington, Ohio, Michigan, Maryland, New Mexico, Minnesota: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Jersey and Illinois.

Current market forces, supportive regulatory and environmental policies, reliability and resilience concerns, and a wider array of fuel supply and technology improvements could represent the best market opportunity for CHP and DG in all sectors in more than 50 years. Here’s why:

  1. Capacity. A coalescence of available fuels, technology and the need for capacity has never been better for MUSH markets, industrials, IT and server loads, and municipal landfill and wastewater treatment facilities. The best regions include New England, the Mid Atlantic, California and Texas.
  2. Utility Business Model. The traditional business model of rate design for utilities is no longer serving its intended purpose, as customers demand better solutions, technology and services than the utility is willing or able to provide. When subject to rate design increases and regulatory attacks, continuing cost pass-throughs, riders and surcharges for declining service get expensive with diminished technology access and limited or no digitalization. The budget to support the old regulatory compact is dead as median income customers in the U.S. experience declining annual disposable income, and industrial and commercial margins are challenged.
  3. New Values for Performance. Power quality, reliability, volatility in price, and service responsibility for customer care and sustainable outcomes now exceed historical electricity market priorities. Industrials seek sustainability and a reduction in or removal of price volatility while seeking reliable and economical energy. Pricing values outweigh tax incentives and net metering reliance as customers realize the best rate to be paying is avoiding the costs of their own retail rate and the volatility, insecurity, and unreliability it poses.
  4. Variable Utility Market Response. The utility market response will vary based on fuel mix, individual utility priorities and recognition that the U.S. marketplace is more appropriately regarded as individual sub-markets with differences in the DOE regions. For example, because the natural gas market is volatile, seasonal in pricing, and considered a backup fuel strategy, it should be weighed as such to preserve the benefits of CHP and DG. For these and other reasons, in some regions utilities will be a friend of CHP and DG and others a foe, so that one blanket policy will not fit all and could be inappropriate.
  5. Financing. Financing models need to be revisited as U.S. banks are no longer lenders in the CHP and DG energy markets. Capital structuring, sourcing and third-party financing will need to evaluate and replace leasing and project finance models because of evolving accounting standards outcomes. The real game changer might be utilities with their cost of capital advantages fostering more joint ventures to develop these projects, and increased mandates on utility billing. New sources of loans are appearing from specialty funds, pension investment funds and high net worth family funding to replace the banks.
  6. Microgrids and T&D Costs. Microgrids, in conjunction with energy storage, energy efficiency and demand management co-strategies, will help accelerate CHP and DG implementation. More and more customers are seeking to avoid T&D costs—which will be rising faster than new generation costs this decade—and also avoid cost surcharges and line losses. To succeed, CHP and DG projects need to be fully integrated with load management efforts, conservation strategies and avoided water costs.
  7. EPA Regulations. Regulations for new SIP implementation for GHGs for existing facilities will accelerate the shift to CHP and DG, along with other requirements for mercury, boiler MACT, ozone, water and rules. (Interested in learning more? Check out CE3’s Energy Webinars Series archives.)
  8. Market Share. Based on our research and literature review, it is likely that 10 states will comprise over 60% of the U.S. market with an energy storage capacity whose share will grow to 25 states and reach to 80%. This would track the collective experience in the past with total energy, cogeneration, power marketing and renewables in the U.S. The whole country would likely not participate in the final market outcome.
  9. Need for Data. Case studies, data, and validation of project performance and operational efficacy will lower CHP and DG project costs—so will insurance and more robust markets for renewable energy credits (RECs) and emissions credits to offset project costs. Third-party financing sources and owners must share their case histories and provide operating data for insurance, financing, resilience, cyber security and weather performance values to be measured, verified and scored.
  10. Big Data Benefits. Big data and energy analytics will accelerate the desirability of CHP and DG alternatives to the customer, vendor, insurer, and technology solutions developer. Data also establishes the benefits of avoiding energy shifts to time-of-day pricing for each hourly or daily energy transaction, i.e. transactive energy with attendant volatility and lack of stability for planning.

Herein lies the best market opportunity in the U.S. in the past 50 years: Through the implementation of the above strategies, market volatility and uncertainty can be reduced or removed. The role of the traditional utility service can evolve to add value via the next-gen, market-ready solutions of CHP and DG, initiatives that differentiate price from value in a complex and changing market. Only then and through CHP and DG can we harmonize the dilemma of using 19th century fuels in a 20th century electric power infrastructure to support the sophisticated demands of a more modern utility service in the 21st century.

For more information about the state of CHP, check out our Energy Webinar from November 5, 2013, archived here: http://www.ohio.edu/ce3/resources/webinars.cfm.

CE3 Blog by Michael J. Zimmer, Executive in Residence & Senior Fellow, Ohio University; Edited by Elissa E. Welch, Project Manager, CE3

 

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