Today, President Obama signed an Executive Order to facilitate investments in capturing waste heat and developing combined heat and power at many of our industrial facilities (“CHP” projects). This energy efficiency strategy can save manufacturers as much as $100 billion in energy costs over the next decade, and offers a type of “renewable” energy as the heat is already available, but too often vented to the atmosphere. According to Oak Ridge National Labs, many industrial operations have an efficiency of 45% or less; waste heat recycling can increase the efficiency of these systems to 80% by capturing waste heat and putting it back to work.
You may have never thought about waste heat, but you’ve probably seen it many times: visualize driving through an industrial area and seeing white smoke coming out of smokestacks. These plumes often comprise heat and steam, and thus represent a wasted resource that we should be capturing and converting to useable energy.
The Executive Order should spur prompt actions by federal and state agencies to facilitate projects. Examples of possible actions are streamlining state permitting, crediting projects toward state clean air requirements, sharing state best practices, and working to better engage utilities in partnering on projects.
CHP projects will not only help our industrial facilities save money on energy costs, but investing in these projects create jobs across a wide variety of businesses engaged in making components, designing and constructing systems, and operating the new energy resources. For example, a recent study by Duke University on recycling industrial waste energy highlighted the six main components needed in each project: boiler/steam generators, steam turbines, generators, condenser/cooling tower, steel piping and electrical parts such as wires and switchgear.
These components represent standard, high value components made by businesses across the U.S., particularly the Midwest and Texas, but also companies in Oklahoma, Georgia, Illinois, and Arizona. All of these components use smaller parts such as basic bearings, valves, fans, rotors, and so on, not to mention the extensive steel piping used in each project. One project in Port Arthur, Texas used 2.5 miles of steam pipeline – good news for the steelworkers.
In addition to the job of manufacturing all these parts, CHP projects require workers to install the components on-site, such as welders, pipefitters, design engineers, and traditional construction workers. On completion, often 15-20 new workers are hired to run the new steam plant/power facility. The CHP project developer, Recycled Energy Development, notes that the cost savings and increased competitiveness at a project completed for West Virginia Alloys enabled the plant to retain its entire workforce, rather than face job cuts of 20%.
So, every time you pass a white plume of smoke on the highway, be glad that today’s Executive Order moves us one step closer to eliminating this waste and helping America’s industries be more competitive.