[Special Ad Supplement] Cogeneration: The Solution for Energy Costs
By Juan M. García Mestas
In Puerto Rico, we have been bemoaning our energy problems for years, and this lament has become resignation. The cost of energy is one of the biggest obstacles that the Puerto Rican entrepreneur has to face and, although it is very worthy to recognize that until now they have managed to remain competitive, the reality is that energy costs have been a determining factor in the stagnation of our economic growth. But this reality leaves no room for immobility and, yes, for solutions. The solutions are closer than we think.
Our primary source of energy, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), faces many challenges to improve its service. AccurateSolutions Corp. President Roberto Acosta, who is also an engineer, believes the biggest problem of the entity is its model of doing business and, “instead of seeking a financial solution to save itself and continue as it is, [Prepa] should seek a technical / operational solution and restructure toward that goal.”
Of the $1.5 billion in fuel purchased by Prepa, $1.095 million a year is lost in inefficiencies. This means, of all the energy in the fuel the utility purchases, only 27% can be used and the remaining 73% is wasted in heat, transmission and distribution.
“This is not a problem specific to Prepa, since many other countries using this centralized generation also report low energy efficiency. But if we look at it from an environmental perspective, this loss of energy not only wastes money, but also harms us because it warms the planet 73% more,” Acosta said. When we say solutions are closer than we think, we are talking about industries that already enjoy the benefits of energy cogeneration, or combined heat and power (CHP).
“CHP is the most efficient way to generate electricity today. The U.S. Department of Energy has expressed it is the immediate solution to address U.S. environmental costs and challenges,” Acosta said. These systems are mainly beneficial to the industry because they allow them to recover the heat that would be lost and convert it into steam, hot water and even ice water. In this way, the efficiency would increase to an average 85%, obtaining savings that no centralized generation can reach.”
The implementation of this technology becomes more relevant when we consider Puerto Rico industry’s need to remain competitive globally. Depending on the industry, the energy cost with CHP should be between 7¢ and 10¢ per kilowatt-hour, or between 57% and 38% lower than the current Prepa costs.
“Subsequently, and supported by public policy, District Cooling systems can be implemented in commercial areas and GD systems in industrial areas. This would have an immediate impact on the economy, stimulating construction projects, creating jobs and reducing costs, but the most fascinating thing is that we could teach the world how to do it and demonstrate the talent we have,” Acosta said.
Power cogeneration is a proven technology that has been providing service for years using more than 30,000 units around the world. Acosta mentioned that “in Puerto Rico, we already have two systems operating in test mode that have proven their efficiency and savings. There are currently other projects under construction that will give more support to the initiative.”
Cogeneration has the capacity to maintain electrical service before any eventuality with Prepa’s service. Furthermore, the environmental benefits of cogeneration are obvious.
“We have information that CHP reduces 98.5% of some air pollutants and on average reduces 61% of air pollution. This is equivalent to eliminating the contamination of 1,118 cars for each megawatt of installed CHP,” Acosta said. “The two systems that have already been installed in Puerto Rico have given an environmental benefit equivalent to shutting down 2,236 cars, in addition to reducing the exhaust temperature by 337%.”