January 31, 2007 4:00 AM PST

'Power plants' in the basement heat up

A Massachusetts company next month will release a combination power generator and space heater, a system that can cut down on electricity bills, according to backers--at least while the heat is running.

Climate Energy was formed in the year 2000 to bring "micro-combined heat and power," or micro-CHP, to consumers in the U.S.

Combined heat and power systems, already available for industry and large buildings, are designed to harvest what is normally wasted heat during the process of power generation. As fuel is burned to make electricity, the resulting heat is captured and piped through a home's existing hot-air heating system.

Climate Energy's system is designed around a Honda internal combustion engine that burns natural gas to generate electricity. A heat exchanger feeds any captured heat to a furnace, which then distributes the hot air.

If sized right, the combined heat and power unit can heat a home during the cold months of the year and slash a home's electricity bills, according to the company's president and CEO, Eric Guyer.

Guyer said Climate Energy's micro-CHP system is trying to take well-understood co-generation, or on-site, power generation technology and make it fit into the average home.

"There are all kinds of co-generation technologies, but nothing on the micro scale," said Guyer. "That's the big untapped market."

He estimates that central heating systems are installed in about 4 million houses every year in the U.S.

Customers who have been beta testing the system in Massachusetts end up with comparatively tiny electric charges of a few dollars in winter months, Guyer said.

That's because the power generated in their homes--about 1.2 kilowatts--offsets their monthly, grid-delivered electricity and is subtracted from their bill. If the power produced exceeds the electrical needs at a given moment, the meter runs backward as power is fed back onto the grid.

Bernard Malin of Braintree, Mass., has had a Climate Energy system in place since last winter. The combined heat and power system is taking a "chunk" out of his electrical bill, something he's still monitoring.

Photos of Micro-CHP system

But Malin noted that there are other benefits, including on-site power generation and a very efficient heating unit.

"The key here is I'm getting the benefit of electricity but, because it's an integrated system, I'm producing heat more efficiently, and I'm not calling for heat as much," he said.

"Just think of the heat that's generated at a (local) power plant--it's going up the smoke stack. I'm using it to heat my house. Nothing goes to waste," he said.

Malin added that the Climate Energy system provides a slow, steady airflow, which allows him to keep his thermostat set lower than his previous furnace, which tended to spike up and down.

Greener than the grid
At $13,500, the cost of the system is roughly twice what somebody would pay for a high-end furnace, Guyer said. But he calculates that people can save $800 to $1,000 a year on electricity, which means the payback would be quicker than conventional heating.

Climate Energy is also hoping to tap into growing environmental concerns.

Combined heat and power systems are very efficient; about 90 percent of the energy is utilized either in heat or electricity.

Because of its high efficiency, the micro-combined heat and power system qualified for a utility-sponsored incentive program. Keyspan Energy Delivery, which serves Massachusetts and other eastern U.S. regions, offers a $2,000 rebate because the system fits into its efficiency programs, according to the company.

Local power generation also gives people a back-up system, he added. And an Internet connection allows for remote maintenance and diagnostics.

Residential combined heat and power systems are further along outside the United States.

In the United Kingdom, there are at least four micro-combined heat and power systems already available, according to the Cogen Europe industry association, which calculates that more than half of the U.K.'s households are suitable.

Systems in Europe are often designed to look and operate like an appliance, placed under a kitchen counter, for example, rather than tucked in a basement.

Because of its efficiency, a micro-CHP system can reduce a household's greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent, according to the U.K.'s Micropower Council.

Climate Energy's Guyer noted that 30,000 micro-combined heat and power units have been installed in Japan in the past few years.

He compared micro-CHP to hybrid cars, which rely on existing technologies. And much like a hybrid car, micro-CHP systems don't compromise performance; the only difference a micro-CHP should introduce is a smaller electric bill.

Later this year, the company plans to release a version that warms up water, rather than air, for heating.

"It's not a big question of whether the technology is viable," he said. "It's really a question of whether we can get it out there with the right price and few bugs."

Malin said that installers from the local power company didn't have any problem installing the Climate Energy system.

He didn't have to pay for the system since it was installed for testing purposes. But viewed over the life of the product, which can be 20 years, he said the higher price tag would be worth it, particularly for people with high electricity rates.

"These gas systems burn really clean, so virtually nothing breaks. So you can really justify it with a little bit of saving on the electric bill," Malin said. "And just having a little bit more (energy) independence away from everybody else is really nice."

See more CNET content tagged:
Combined Heat and Power, power generation, electricity, Massachusetts, heat


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Add your comment
I like where this idea is heading.
Eventually, homes will be constructed with various supplemental energy/heating systems that could help alleviate their dependence on the grid.
Posted by jamie.p.walsh (288 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You're barking up the wrong tree
Dependence on the grid isn't the problem. Dependence on
carbon-spewing fuels, primarily of the fossil variety, is.
Posted by tundraboy (494 comments )
Link Flag
Bush should offer subsidies on this!
The poorly laid out and uncreative Energy Independence plans of George W.Bush, should have includued substantail tax credits and subsidies for this mini-CHP technology and other distributed generation technologies versus the continuing support for the ethanol "heavy" plans.

Combine the min-CHP with a solar/PV system and consumers will be FREE from the enslavement of the monopoly electric utilities. Distributed Generation(DG) is getting a huge boost with the mini-CHP.

Efficiency and cycle efficiency are key to saving energy and money. The mini CHP with 90% cycle efficency is going to be a huge market winner. Bring'em on!
Posted by StanJasek (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get Free
Hey Stan,

If you want to get free....join the Amish since they don't use any
electricty. It's not just the "W"s plan but also the responsibility of
congress.....oh yeah....and the voting public!
Posted by phrogdriver71 (52 comments )
Link Flag
First of all, the 90% efficiency was for gas heaters not a gas
operated engine. This thing will produce energy and use the
heat by-product to warm up the house. When a heater is just a
heater it can be up to 90% efficient. When this thing is
generating electricity (which is really the whole point) it won't be
anywhere near that.

It would be very nice of Bush or any other government figure to
offer subsidies / rebates on something like this. I think it might
be a little too expensively for them to afford personally though.
So they would have to do what government always does, stick a
gun to someone's head and force them to give up their money
so someone else can get a cheaper energy appliance.

If mini-CHP technology turns out great energy savings for its
owners, people will be running to it on their own. If on the other
hand, they prefer to not have dishwasher noise 24/7 and an
inflated gas bill, they might wait for something else to come
Posted by sbwinn (216 comments )
Link Flag
Disaagree, but only in part ...
My fear is not so much enslavement by the monopoly electric utilities.

I am truly afraid of some Islamic mullah or caliphate deciding that the good citizens of the United States need to fork over the Jizyah tax (as if we don't already via bloated oil prices!!), and our foreign-oil addicted government is too weak to say ?no?.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
you are talking about Bush remember. I don't think the oil companies would approve, they would rather have that money as tax rebates.
Posted by FutureGuy (742 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I predicted this years ago...
and just wait until the Japanese industry gets into it (ie Honda, Fujitsu HI,...).
Imagine a unit that recycles water (into potable or steam systems), waste (into fuel and inert potting matter) and heat into home system power plant. Heating, cooling, waste-recycler and electricity. All consumer friendly or partially-serviceable.
Companies like Lennox should see that the homeowner needs to be independent from the grid and local sewage, municipalities.
Posted by Below Meigh (249 comments )
Reply Link Flag
err, say what?
potting matter? Are you nuts? Go ahead, YOU can do that. Once I put "something" down the drain I don't want it in my house no more. Sorry, waste purification is too complex for a home-based unit. Plus how would that generate electricity to make the home efficient from the grid? Purifying water takes a ton of chemicals and energy, not to mention open space.

Looks like your idea is a "little" different from this one inasmuch as your idea is impossible and pointless while this is an actual product that works.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
Sound like the Fiat totem, that used the Fiat 124 engine, and was available back in 1979.
Posted by MKenzie (23 comments )
Reply Link Flag
minor correction
The base engine Fiat used was the 127 unit. This engine uses much more conservative timing and induction porting to gain economy. The 124 was designed for performance rather than economy.
Posted by iconoklast (1 comment )
Link Flag
Micro-CHP great, but.....
Home heating is perhaps the only case of extremely efficient use of fuel- a a common natural gas furnace/boiler runs well in excess of 90% efficency. The proposed system uses natural gas to create electricity not really novel, but is cool from a distributed generation perspective. However, an internal combustion engine in my basement doesn't seem to be much of a breakthrough- just packaging. Now if it gasified your garbage and junk-wood into fuel-gas and ran off that, well that would be something.
Posted by jjaser (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Probably the next step
Well, it's not really viable right now, but soon, that should be possible. Garbage compaction and fuel production rolled into one? Intriguing idea, especially if organic plastics are developed. Right now, it takes hundreds of years for plastic bottles to decompose, but once we develop easier methods, and safer materials, the technology will become availiable.
Posted by ben::zen (127 comments )
Link Flag
As far as getting energy out of refuse like plastics and such, there are systems that last I checked were in trials. Thermal depolymerization plants work with elevated temperatures and pressures so as to speed the breakdown process from decades to hours or less. Just about anything can be processed that's organic based, even medical wastes and diseased animal remains. The output is oil, minerals, water, and a few other things that seem to already have a use from what I recall reading some time ago. The energy requirements of operating the system come from tapping into the oil production output after start-up, making the system something like 80% efficient.

The article I discovered this in was I think, "Anything into oil." A trial plant is located near a turkey processing facility and was to use their processing remains as feed stock last I read. The system if all works out could reduce the burdens of dump sites across the lands, and reclaim some of what has gone into products such as plastic, old tires, etc. Only time will tell.
Posted by wonderingmind (6 comments )
Link Flag
What about power outtages?
Does it work when the power is out? That is, if the power company that provides power to the house goes dark, will this unit, since it burns natural gas, continue to function and produce electricity?

That alone would be a huge selling point for me, being a Puget Sound Energy customer. I'm tired of the power outtages.
Posted by TV James (680 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Backup power mode
As the article suggests, the system is designed to run as a backup power source in the event of a grid outage. In this mode, the system can generate 2.0 KW. This is not typically enough to supply a whole home with power, but it is enough to run some really important loads, such as your heating system, a well or sump pump, refrigerator, and some lights. Enough to protect the structure and its occupants when there is no grid power.

The advantage of this system over a larger backup only generator is that this system will pay for itself instead of sitting unused 99+% of the time.
Posted by climateguy (15 comments )
Link Flag
I don't see why such a system couldn't be designed to do so. The thing is one doesn't want to be back-feeding electricity to the grid when the otherwise incoming power from a main power grid line down. The reason being aside form potentially overloading the generator, is that you don't want to present the utility line worker with an electrical charge when there would otherwise not be one. A controlled main switch could be inline between the generator's power and the main incoming power to the building, so that when the incoming utility power fails the switch disconnects preventing generator feed to the incoming utility line. Reconnection would come when incoming utility feed is sensed. This process is similar to how a grid-tie power system works with say wind, solar, or hydro, with the inverter which converts the DC voltages into AC and syncs the waveform and frequency with that of the main grid. With the grid-tie inverter however, the unit shuts down without sensing a grid signal - that's the fail-safe. Now if the the sync and control system of such an inverter could be designed to go between the incoming grid line and the breaker box/power panel, that would provide the utility line break while still allowing for main panel feed from the generator, or wind/solar/hydro... The inverter and main power panel would become a combined system in such installations, helping to further the safety to line workers and passers by of an accident scene involving distribution lines.
Posted by wonderingmind (6 comments )
Link Flag
Some questions
This system uses natural gas, so how is this cost incorporated in the "savings". Yes it reduces electricity bills, but what effect does it have on gas usage versus the normal gas furnace? In short does the honda combustion engine use more or less gas than a normal gas furnace?
Also: Presumably, in winter, the Honda natural gas powered engine gets quite a work out. WHat's the life cycle of sunch and engine and what's the cost of eventual replacement?
ANother Question: What's the noise level associated with a combustion engine in the basement? I have friends with back up engines for electricity, but these are always located OUTSIDE of the house. Any issues here?
Posted by IanrJ (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
some answers
From talking the company and a customer, I can take a stab at answering some of these. It's not clear that your gas usage will go down dramatically, but the heating unit itself (separate from the power generator) is very high efficiency. Also, the generator creates heat, which means in theory the heating unit shouldn't work as hard.
Don't know about the projected life of the Honda engine but clearly heating units are designed for a long time.
The customer I spoke to said he can hear the generator working. Noise level on the order of a dish washer.
Posted by mlamonica (330 comments )
Link Flag
Solar Power
There is another similar company using Solar Energy that rents the system so there is no large cash out lay (just a deposit)
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.clickaudit.com/goto/?18961" target="_newWindow">http://www.clickaudit.com/goto/?18961</a> The cost is the one Biggest Problems why more people are not using this Technology and maybe they have the answer.
Posted by bucks777 (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That solar setup is 80% less powerful
What is the physical size of Solar system that can put out 1.2 KW,
the same as this home generator?

That would be bigger than your house.

I clicked your link and found out that that solar system puts out
only 250 Watts during peak or one fifth the power of the Honda
generator in the article.
Posted by Sparky672 (244 comments )
Link Flag
Not as much $aving for some states.
quoting article: "That's because the power generated in their
homes--about 1.2 kilowatts--offsets their monthly, grid-
delivered electricity and is subtracted from their bill. If the power
produced exceeds the electrical needs at a given moment, the
meter runs backward as power is fed back onto the grid."

This is just not true for states like Illinois where you are not
allowed to tie into the grid directly. If you want to do something
like this, the law states that you are not allowed to run your
meter backwards. You have to install a second meter to track
outgoing power separate from incoming.

Because in Illinois, they only pay back a fraction per KW-hr of
what they charge you to use a KW-hr.

In other words, if you're not home using the power you're
generating, you're not offsetting the charges on a 1 to 1 basis.
It's still great if you don't have to purchase any power but you
won't be making as much money as you would have paid them
for the same amount of power. I don't have the exact figures
but they only pay you something like 25% of what they would
have charged you for the same amount of power.

Why? They also maintain the power grid, they argue. So they
believe they are entitled to charge more for the electricity.

Illinois started deregulating this month where they have separate
line items on the bill for power and for distribution. I'm not sure
yet how this effects everything else I said.
Posted by Sparky672 (244 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Most states allow "Net Metering" for renewable energy technologies such as solar and wind. Many other states are adopting the same rules for Micro-CHP systems like the Climate Energy Freewatt system described in the article. Net Metering will give owners of such a system full retail credit anytime they produce more power than they can use.

The Freewatt system is not sized to be a net producer of electricity, but rather to replace a significant portion of the power that you would normally have to purchase from the grid.
Posted by climateguy (15 comments )
Link Flag
Then there's the rest of us...
... who live in sunny climes, prefer cooling most of the year, and
would get little use of this product. Here is where solar has the
most potential. If I find the right product, I'd use it with or without
government incentives. Maybe for a change the consumer can drive
the decisions rather than industry lobbyists.
Posted by jessadam (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Old Idea, New Sales Pitch
This idea has been around for nearly thirty years. The reason it has not caught on is the maths are flawed.
Even if you use free fuel like pig or chicken **** you need an expensive plant to convert it into combustible gas. And the surplus heat from the engine is nowhere near enough to heat a home.
Micro - generation, like wind power is a total non starter. They are a great profit maker for unscrupulous companies who don't care abour accuracy in their sales literature. Solar power has potential but tidal and run of river generation schemes offer the best way forward but can only work with massive public investment. So we have to abandon free market capitalism to save the world.
Which would be two steps forward at once.
BTW watch out for micro-generation based pyramid selling schemes. That' how dodgy the idea is.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://machiavelli.blog.co.uk/main" target="_newWindow">http://machiavelli.blog.co.uk/main</a>
Posted by boggart (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Thomas Edison
Combined heat and power has been around since the very first power stations were being built. Even Thomas Edison recognized the inherent waste of producing electricity at low efficiency and throwing away the resulting heat. Typical power plants today throw away enormous amounts heat that could be better utilized.

The heat output from the engine is enough to heat a decent sized home on a moderate day, and provide more than half of the total heat required to a home during the course of the year. Remember that heating equipment is normally sized to meet the demand on the coldest day of the year, most of the time much less heat is needed.
Posted by climateguy (15 comments )
Link Flag
The city of Dayton, back around 30 years ago, tried power generation using methane from dump sites and waste treatment.

The biggest problem was that the meters, regulators and pipes rotted in weeks from the highly acidic gas.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Great Idea ....
but hardly new .. Mechanix Illustrated(May 82) cover page .. a study done by GM .. in the article using then current technology the system would be the same as a 95% efficient furnace(common today) but todays engines/electrical systems are much more efficient... possible savings(35%) or even better. BTW the article was written by a Paul Wiessler .. i tried a Google search but all info was recent .. I too have thought of this system since reading the article .. i also have a 3KVA UPStation power backup... maybe that could be tied in to run electrical without the engine running constantly.. also hot water heat under basement floor .. Hmmmmmmm it might work, Joe
Posted by ruffrider44 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Great Idea ....
but hardly new .. Mechanix Illustrated(May 82) cover page .. a study done by GM .. in the article using then current technology the system would be the same as a 95% efficient furnace(common today) but todays engines/electrical systems are much more efficient... possible savings(35%) or even better. BTW the article was written by a Paul Wiessler .. i tried a Google search but all info was recent .. I too have thought of this system since reading the article .. i also have a 3KVA UPStation power backup... maybe that could be tied in to run electrical without the engine running constantly.. also hot water heat under basement floor .. Hmmmmmmm it might work, Joe
Posted by ruffrider44 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How much Natural Gas does it burn, What about propane
How much Natural Gas does it burn in relation to say running a high efficiency natural gas furnace?
Is there a propane model available?
Posted by llapanowski (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Gas Usage
When compared to a 90%+ efficient gas furnace, the gas usage will increase modestly, approximately 5%-7%. However the resulting value of the thousands of kilowatt-hours of electrical production more than offset the cost of that additional gas.

It's important to note that most people who purchase a Freewatt system will be replacing older, much less efficient equipment and as such will see no change or even a reduction in their heating fuel usage.

The system will run on propane as well as natural gas.
Posted by climateguy (15 comments )
Link Flag
Home power generation
It sounds good, except for the feeding back to the grid. When you install a backup generator a fail safe transfer switch to isolate your system from the grid is mandatory. The rationale is that power crews restoring downed lines could be injured by an unexpectedly energized circuit. The transformer that steps down the high voltage distribution would step up the back fed power. I don't think you would be allowed to feed the power grid.
Posted by nmoore6676 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
you certainly can...
You are confusing two different systems.

Two things are needed to feed power back onto the grid...

1. Permission from the power company. (and maybe a second
outgoing meter depending on your state's laws)

2. A special synchronizing switch. It's an expensive electronic
box with a switch that syncs the voltage phase of the generator
to the grid before tying it in. &lt;&lt;- This is your new fail-safe

It's the same system you'd install with a windmill generator.

Otherwise you'd be correct. If you just plugged a regular home
generator into the grid, you blow up the generator, your panel,
and maybe something else.
Posted by Sparky672 (244 comments )
Link Flag
Not a long term solution
Do I want all my neighbors running internal combustion engines
day in and day out spewing pollution and green house gases
into the air? Naaaaah.

Do I want to pay for the infratructure to monitor all these
engines to make sure their emissions controls are being
maintatined properly? Naaaah.

We need to get away from burning fossil fuels. And this doesn't
do it.
Posted by tundraboy (494 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Medium term solution
The natural gas driven Freewatt system has a 3-way catalytic converter that produces less emissions on a per kilowatt-hour basis than the electrical grid in aggregate. Also, because so much of the fuel energy is captured for useful purposes, the overall fuel usage is significantly lower than the combination of a power plant and heating system.

Micro-CHP represents a large step in fuel efficiency. It certainly does not eliminate the need to use fossil fuels, however it does use fossil fuels in a much more responsible and efficient way than we are doing today.

It would be great if in the blink of an eye everyone converted to solar heating and electric or if there was a breakthrough in nuclear fusion. However the reality of the near term is that people are going to be replacing their fuel burning heating systems with other fuel burning heating systems and the Freewatt system allows us all to use the fuel that we are going to be burning anyway to get the most value out of it.
Posted by climateguy (15 comments )
Link Flag
Next step in power generation.
60% of our electrical power is generated by coal burning power plants that are the dirtiest way to produce power we have. If I can reduce that by using natural gas which is the cleanest producer of power than it seems like a good trade-off. Co-generation plants have been around for years because they make good economic sense. Not until the anti-nuke crowd sees the light(sic) will we be able to get away from fossil fuel generated power.
Posted by pn235 (3 comments )
Link Flag
But on a positive note . . .
How about if you replace that Honda engine with a fuel cell that
runs on natural gas?
Posted by tundraboy (494 comments )
Reply Link Flag
quoting: "How about if you replace that Honda engine with a fuel
cell that runs on natural gas?"

Probably because instead of $13,000 for a 1.2 KW device, you'd
be paying several times more for a fuel cell of that size. That
makes this technology impractical for the average home at this

When you compare KW to size, nothing yet comes close to the
practicality of just rotating the shaft of a conventional generator.

Even wind-power which uses the exact same type of generators
are not practical when you compare the size of blades required
to generate the same rotational forces as super-heated steam or
hydro-electric turbines.
Posted by Sparky672 (244 comments )
Link Flag
What about methane?
Any chance the Honda could run using fumes from a farm, landfill, or sewage plant?
Posted by El Kabong (100 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Heat house with appliances
My kids like to leave on the TV, the PCs, the lights, etc., which of course generates a lot of waste heat. In the winter I don't mind so much, since it just means I'm heating the house with electricity instead of the gas furnace (so it's slightly more expensive). But in the summer....AAAARRRGH!!! TURN OFF THE $#%@!* LIGHTS!
Posted by dmm (336 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This would be great
If it included a tankless water heater. That just eats gas or electricity for almost no purpose. I'll be replacing my furnace in 7-10 years so this may be a practical option then. Probably won't work in Illinois since the utility has a stranglehold on politics on all levels here and it benefits good olde ComEd to be in "crisis" mode all the time.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Water Heating
Climate Energy is working on a domestic water heating solution to offer as an option on future models.
Posted by climateguy (15 comments )
Link Flag
Wind, Solar. . . great idea BUT
Basic flaw I see in 'FREE' solar and Wind power is BATTERIES. Yup, folks solar and wind produce DC voltage, that is STORED in BATTERIES that are then inefficiently converted to AC thru a motor generator or solid state electronics. Where does this lead in the overall picture? A HUGE amount of lead acid batteries OR NiCad OR LiOn or or or that need to be replaced. Now we have serious environmental concerns to satisfy. There is NO FREE LUNCH on a regular basis. I'm not bashing, honest. I don't have any alternatives (I wish I did) I'm just presenting the ugly side of the 'FREE' picture that no one else does.
Posted by itsmescotty (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
For sure... and the systems are still too small.
I agree.

Add to that the simple fact that an average house needs to
approach 7 to 10 KW for total electrical independence from the

Solar: Forget it, you would need open space 30 times larger
than your roof plus a butt-load of batteries and support

Wind: Better than Solar since it generates A/C and you don't
need batteries. You'd still need the electronics and a typical
home would require two to four 4000 Watt generators on poles
80 feet off the ground at a self installed cost of about $20K
Posted by Sparky672 (244 comments )
Link Flag
Just one comment about wind & solar
You generate more electricity per square foot of facility with nuclear than any other source. And until you change the laws of physics, this fact will not change.

In addition, you generate fewer greenhouse gases than coal, oil or natural gas-fired plants. Bonus!

All the "alternative energy" cheerleaders need to get on the nuclear bandwagon before the next run-up in the Middle East. Hells Belles, if we had been building nuclear power plants for the last 20 years (a) the designs would have gotten better, (b) the plants would have become more efficient and (c) we could tell OPEC to stuff high oil prices in their collective turbans.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Though I admit there's no free lunch, or say there are never compromises, utility level power generation can be provided without batteries as long as you don't want a system that functions as a back-up power source when grid power isn't available. With solar, wind or hydro systems, the power they generate can be fed to a grid-tie inverter that matches grid voltage, waveform and frequency as long as power coming from the grid is present itself. If an incoming grid signal isn't present the inverter shuts down, preventing back feed to the grid - fail safe to line workers. In theory the system could be designed to still provide power to one's power panel while still disconnecting from the grid during utility power outages, but the only hang-up would be if power generation wasn't able to cover the power demands of the user, and the influence upon power quality when the system tries to re-sync with the grids signal when it again becomes available. It all comes down to system design, sizing, generation influence factors, and utilization of the power generated (power demands)...as well as incentives.
Posted by wonderingmind (6 comments )
Link Flag
And let's up fuel-economy already (while we're at it)
Let's offer subsidies or tax breaks for finally implementing all of
the efficiency increases we've been hearing about for years.
Posted by Mark Greene (163 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MPG from 1984
Just a short note-in '84 we bought a Honda CRX 1.3 and managed an honest 60mpg across the AZ. desert and for many years after picked up 50mpg around town. Who knows where we'd be if Americans hadn't become vehicular gourmands with our Selfish Urban Vanities gulping down fuel.
Posted by Scott479 (6 comments )
Link Flag
As for upping fuel economy, I'm with you...though I'm no engineer I am fascinated with engines, and from what I've come to understand I just don't think there's much that can be done currently with the internal combustion engine without influencing the investment expense of the supplier and of course the consumer - though that's like anything else that's new in the economic supply-demand equation.

The average efficiency of a spark ignition (SI) engine is 15-25%, a compression ignition engine at say 30-40% (increase over SI by increases in compression, not having a throttle body/butterfly to suck air past, and to direct fuel injection and the fact that diesel has a higher energy rating per gallon than gasoline). The rest of the energy is heat which is great in the winter, but otherwise goes into heating the outside air. Friction, thermal exchanges and saturations, pumping losses (hertz effects when dealing with compressible gases and flow restrictions in general), energies required to support engine operation conditions like a coolant pump, oil pump, alternator for replenishing power that's consumed by the engine control unit, ignition system (SI), etc. Fuel losses come from things like poor atomization and mix quality with air, blow-by past the piston rings, crevice volumes where the combustion flame is extinguished, fuel stability as related to compression ratios and resultant heating with compression and add to that heat build-up in the combustion chamber under increasing loads that could cause uncontrolled ignition events that could self-perpetuate from pinging to destructive detonation. Now for overall efficiency, add losses to the driveline of a vehicle from transmissions, wheel bearings, tire deformation on the roadway, brake drag and drag of the vehicle's body through the air, etc.

As a side note - I do wonder what happened to the fuel efficient prototypes of the automakers during President Clinton's days in office, as I seem to recall some press footage on the news of a meeting he had with one of the US makers showing some designs that gave numbers of say 70 to 100 mpg. Perhaps those numbers were theoreticals of the time with some fancy looking models to show for PR's sake?
Posted by wonderingmind (6 comments )
Link Flag
In addition to my MPG response -

I forgot to mention an attributing efficiency gain for CI engines being that of super/turbo charging that utilizes some waste energy of the exhaust to boost intake air pressure, in effect eliminating the effects of air flow restrictions otherwise acting against the production of power. Do to the increased air intake, there are also increases in pressure differentials between intake and exhaust cycles as relative to a none firing engine. CI engines can still handle the increases in compression pressures because fuel is not introduced until just prior to desired ignition as it uses this heat to ignite the fuel. A SI engine however partially cycles the fuel-air mixture through the intake and compression cycles allowing some heat transfer, and testing it's stability so as not to ignite prior to the timing of the spark. That said, such equipped SI engines usually have lower compression ratios than their normally aspirated counterparts. There's also the arguments of increased maintenance costs that the added complexity of the supercharge/turbocharged system adds, with potentials in "coking" or carbon build-up on the turbo bearings due to the high operating temperatures about the unit. I think that's partially due to the quality of the oils of the time/incompatible oils, and/or quickly shutting down the engine after running the engine though it's paces. DI engines run near max the most of their existence but are operated more considerately.

Another MPG control is in the emissions control equipment when it comes to SI engines. The standard engine could run from upper teens to lower twenties before signs of misfire occur. However, the average catalyst used in the automobile industry requires a fuel-air ratio of 14.7:1 to operate at it's maximum efficiency. Max power production occurs at a slightly richer mixture though produces increased carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions due to incomplete combustion. Leaner mixtures above 14.7:1 produces less power but is great for crusing loads and deceleration in cases where the engine must remain powered, but the draw back is increasing NOx emissions. I thought I read an article on the web about a maker of lean burn engine catalyst in Canada, but haven't followed this.

In the days of steam engines, compound engines were utilized to get as much heat energy out of the input steam as it presents pressure above atmosphere (steam is said to be 1600 times the volume of it's condensed counterpart). A spin-off of this is of a more recently read about engine design being that of a 6-stroke. The design spoken of in the article is still premature to provide any test figures but it at least powers itself. The plus to this design is that it does away with the traditional cooling system and fans, and utilizes direct injection of distilled water to cool the interior surfaces of the combustion chamber after a combustion event cycle, timed around piston top dead center. The water converts to steam and increases pressure to act upon the piston while providing cooling. A concern mentioned is preventing the water from freezing when operated in freezing environments, which might be addressed by adding alcohol. Others that I have is erosion upon water contact regions as it flash vaporizes, as well as the amounts of water required to maintain cool operations while under actual loads. Another is lubrication as todays engine lubricants contain heat activated anti-wear additives for when lubrication regimens are less than the ideal hydrodynamic state, and additional moisture/anti corrosion capabilities.
Posted by wonderingmind (6 comments )
Link Flag
Nice work but it's not the only microCHP out there
Nice work from this company. However, the claim by Guyer that there's nothing available on a micro-scale is not true. WhisperGen (www.whispergen.com) in Christchurch New Zealand has already done exactly the same thing. Their's is based on a stirling engine and provides both electrical power and heat. Both have a similar size and spec.

Still, it's nice to see people working on these machines. It's all about using energy more efficiently instead of throwing it away.
Posted by hjr29 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
North America
I don't believe that the WhisperGen system is available for purchase in North America. I believe that Guyer's statement was talking about what is available specifically in the US.

There are a number of micro-CHP systems either being used or in development worldwide, but this is the only complete heating system package in North America.
Posted by climateguy (15 comments )
Link Flag
I Question the fuel source
Where I live, Natural Gas is not Available, and Leahy's Fuels has upped my propane rate to nearly $3 per gallon. I heat water with $3 fuel !!

I'd like to know what would happen if this was tied to FUEL CELL technology. No dangerous fumes as a result of combustion, no physical tie to the volatile (cost wise) fuel market, renewable.

It might not produce heat -- but the bigger issue is dependence on companies that seem to fall into today's "model" of stealing from the consumer, and happily reporting it as "Record Profits" (Exxon/Mobil this week)

So, that said, what are the downsides, and costs associated with fuel cells producing power in homes? How about refueling? How about the results.

Frank Taylor
Posted by FrankTaylor121950 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Still requires energy

- Fuel cells of any substantial size are extremely expensive.
- You still must supply a "fuel" to a fuel cell usually Hydrogen.

Fuel cells produce heat. How much depends on the size of the

In the Fuel Cell:

You input fuel (Hydrogen) to the cell and out comes water, heat,
and electricity.

To get the fuel (Hydrogen) for the Cell:

You break apart water molecules using electricity.

Although you'd be purchasing a fuel such as Hydrogen, how
expensive is the Hydrogen? Hydrogen manufacturing requires
electricity. So now you are transferring the consumption of
electricity from your location to the Hydrogen plant. One could
argue that this would be more efficient by consolidating the
electricity usage in one location. Perhaps. On the other hand,
you must then consume more energy to transport all that
Hydrogen to various homes.
Posted by Sparky672 (244 comments )
Link Flag

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