The order will provide incentives for industrial facilities to deploy CHP, also known as cogeneration, and waste heat recovery technology, and will also expand the Better Buildings, Better Plants program at the Department of Energy. Combined heat and power systems recover wasted heat and reuse it as electricity in a single, closed system.
The feds will also work with states to define and spread best practices and investment models that break down the barriers to investment in industrial energy efficiency.
Energy efficiency, which is the least visible — and arguably, the least sexy — aspect of the cleantech sector, soldiers on despite political upheaval and investor pullback. There is actually broad support for many energy efficiency policies.
“Industrial energy efficiency is a pragmatic policy with broad support from members of both political parties,” Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Clean Energy Program, said in a statement. “Combined heat and power and waste heat recovery are deployed throughout the country, with the largest concentration of installed capacity located in Texas, California, Louisiana, and New York.”
Earlier this week, Obama also enacted new fuel efficiency standards. While the new executive order is not a standard, unlocking additional CHP could have a significant effect on energy use in the U.S. Industrial power use accounts for more than 30 percent of all energy consumed in the U.S. Currently, there are about 80 gigawatts of CHP installed in the U.S., according to the U.S. Clean Heat & Power Association, a trade group.
There is a technical potential for about 130 gigawatts, plus another 10 gigawatts of waste heat recovery, according to the U.S. Clean Heat & Power Association, which praised Obama’s order. “Most of these efficient technologies are made right here in the U.S.,” the group said in a statement.
Increasing efficiency in some of the biggest power hogs in the U.S., whether in transportation or industry, could likely be Obama’s most significant achievement in sustainability. There have also been waves of other efficiency standards that have been finalized during his time in office, for everything from washing machines to set-top boxes.
Tackling wasted energy in industrial plants is hardly a new topic for the Department of Energy. Four years ago, a report from the DOE found that about 9 percent of factories use combined heat and power, which saved the country 1.9 quadrillion BTUs of fuel, or about 2 percent of total energy use in the U.S. — the equivalent of what all of the data centers in the U.S. consume. The study noted that if 20 percent of the facilities installed CHP by 2030, the savings would be the equivalent of the power used by half the households in the U.S. The General Services Administration is also investigating whether more of its buildings could benefit from CHP.