Get Smart About Heat, Not Just Energy

The word "Smart" pervades much of the talk about energy efficiency these days, with smart meters, smart electricity, smart energy and more eclipsing "green" as the latest buzz word. However we have a gaping hole in our national dialogue on smart energy, and it's more than a little hot air.

That issue is waste heat. According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, thermal applications account for more than 30 percent of all U.S. energy consumption. The U.S. throws away fully two-thirds of the heat left over from power production, which is more heat than all of the energy used in Japan. U.S organizations also waste more than half of the heat byproduct created during industrial processes -- when many good uses exist for this waste heat.

What's more, a large percent of the thermal load occurs because of burning imported fuels, particularly in highly populated regions like the Northeast -” in an era when as a nation we are attempting to shift to domestic supplies. By neglecting heat in our smart energy pursuit, we continue to forfeit domestic, efficient and inexpensive fuels in favor of polluting and pricey foreign imports.

What's Smart About Smart Heat?
Yet a good many uses exist for this thermal energy. Combined heat and power (CHP) systems, sometimes called cogeneration, or distributed generation, simultaneously produce two types of energy -“ heat and electricity -“ from one fuel source. This two-for-one approach offers tremendous efficiency and thus both cost savings and environmental benefits.

Notably, CHP systems also reuse this heat byproduct to heat and cool the air and water for hotels, schools, universities, nursing homes, hospitals, fitness centers, apartment buildings and other facilities. The CHP process is very similar to an automobile, where the engine provides the power to rotate the wheels and the byproduct heat is used to keep the passengers warm in the cabin during the winter months.

CHP systems are a tried-and-true technology that goes back to Thomas Edison. As a result, at first glance they may lack the luster of newer energy approaches that industry pundits may label as clean, green, or smart. Yet combined heat and power is very much all of those, and more -“ reducing energy waste with results that are here and now, in hard dollar savings, instead of requiring full capital outlays today with the promise of a future investment tax credit.

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