How to Make Energy Efficiency Sexy

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of AOL Energy. Author credit goes to Elisa Wood.

Touted by movie stars, discussed in presidential debates, solar and wind energy are the technological ‘it girls’ of our time. Meanwhile, combined heat and power, 100 years old and shaped like a box, can’t get a date with popular culture.

Such was the lament that threaded through a recent annual gathering in Washington, D.C. of about 120 industry supporters of CHP, as the technology is more commonly known (for those who know it).

CHP Plant

image via Shutterstock

You can’t say CHP doesn’t try. A clean energy workhorse of the economy, CHP supplies about 12 percent of US generation, more than twice that of the big attention-getters: wind and solar. It’s reliable – works even when the days grow cloudy or still – and has high cred among energy insiders and environmentalists for its efficiency, fuel savings and low emissions.

Yet its name recognition is about on par with that of Jill Stein – even though it’s been around since the time of Thomas Edison.

“People think CHP is the California Highway Patrol,” said Joe Allen, chairman of US Combined Heat and Power Association, which hosted the two-day gathering.

CHP Support from the Highest Level

But all that is about to change if CHP supporters have their way. USCHPA and its allies in the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy are on a mission to transform CHP from a church organ player to Mick Jagger. And they’ve got a major promoter behind their effort: the President of the United States. In late August President Barack Obama issued an executive order calling for a 50 percent increase in industrial CHP by 2020 (prompting a blogger to immediately tweet, WTH is CHP?)

“Our industry is not as sexy as solar or wind because we are essentially selling boxes,” said Justin Rathke, a vice president of sales for Capstone Turbine.

The boxes, which now supply about 82 GW of installed electricity, have the attention of the Oval Office because they can reach efficiencies of 80 percent, compared with about 33 percent for conventional fossil fuel power plants. CHP does this by reusing the heat created in electric production that conventional plants let disappear into the air. So CHP offers a kind of twofer: it produces two forms of energy – heat and power – from one fuel to run the plant.

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