Clean Tech

The promise of trigeneration

V Rishi Kumar | Updated on December 04, 2019 Published on December 03, 2019

A technology that cools, heats and generates power simultaneously could maximise energy efficiency

As India works towards achieving its commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, seeking to reduce carbon footprint by 33-35 per cent by the year 2030 with 2005 as base year, it has taken up a series of innovative energy-efficiency measures. As greenhouse gas emissions increase, the challenge of addressing the greenhouse effect gets tougher and requires more funding. To combat its impact, a number of initiatives have been taken. Over the years, co-generation (producing electricity using waste heat from an industrial process) has played a major role in the transformation of industries. Now it is time to look at ‘Trigeneration’, which has been widely adopted in the UK and Europe.

Trigeneration is a process of cooling, heating and power generation simultaneously from a single fuel source. In the case of gas, which is a cleaner fuel, fired generators are used to produce electricity. The by-product is waste heat, which is directed to absorption chillers and boilers for space cooling, water heating and related purposes. Increasing access to natural gas, as an input for trigeneration systems, is set to trigger a new wave of trigeneration projects.

Switchover to gas

As India takes to city gas distribution networks, trigeneration is likely to go up significantly in commercial establishments, hotels, airports and large real estate projects, among others. It is estimated that this technology has been successful in helping improve operational efficiencies by up to 75 per cent, reduce energy costs by 30-40 per cent and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

In countries like The Netherlands and Denmark, gas-based cogeneration is said to already constitute nearly a fifth of the total power generation, and in the UK about 11 per cent.

The trigeneration market has been estimated at about 20,000 MW in India, with the bulk of the demand expected to be driven primarily by commercial real estate, airports, industries and service establishments.

The initial phase of trigeneration adoption might be limited to cities where there is a stable gas supply network and possibly a number of smart cities could find this attractive. For remote and rural customers, where gas supply has not yet been established, work is on to explore the feasibility of using liquefied natural gas transportation.

Saurabh Kumar, Managing Director of Energy Efficiency Services Ltd (EESL), an energy service company formed by State-owned power companies, says, “The adoption of decentralised combined heat and power (CH) and trigeneration technology will support the decarbonisation of India’s electricity grid and thus reduce the reliance on centralised coal fired power generation.”

On-site power generation is a significant catalyst in support of stabilising the grid, reducing power outages and improving site resilience, which could otherwise negatively impact the end-user’s operations, finances and reputation, he explains. Therefore, EESL is seeking to offer a one-stop-shop approach in delivering the full turnkey power solution that will unlock business competition and drive growth, leading to innovation, greater efficiency and smarter ways of working.

The processes

Cogeneration and Trigeneration. The latter is an extension of cogeneration that involves the simultaneous production of electricity, heating and cooling. Some heat produced by a cogeneration plant is used to generate chilled water for air-conditioning or refrigeration. In fact, the concept of Combined Heat and Power (CHP) is well-established and has a history of over 100 years. About 11 per cent of Europe’s electricity generation is delivered through CHP. In the UK, CHP is widely used within commercial and industrial sectors where there is a high electrical demand.

Through CHP, end-users typically save over 30 per cent on their annual energy costs and 30 per cent carbon emission reduction, when compared to conventional generation of energy via a boiler and power station. Besides, the process is highly efficient at converting gas into electrical power. On-site gas engine eliminates losses incurred through the transmission and distribution of power through the electricity grid and local distribution networks.

Kumar explains, “In March 2018, EESL’s UK subsidiary Energypro Assets Ltd (EPAL) acquired UK-based CHP and trigeneration market leader Edina to serve India’s buoyant market for low-carbon technologies. Edina’s India Operation, Edina Power Services Ltd (EPSL) will have access to turnkey and engineered power solutions for the India market. Edina’s skill in installing and maintaining power plants and EESL’s business model will be a key driver in realising the transition to low-cost carbon technology.”

Many takers

Other companies too feel that the trigeneration technology can go a long way. Ravichandran Purushothaman, President, Danfoss India, believes that “trigeneration is the right step that will lead us towards district energy systems where heating, cooling, hot water and such other requirements are integrated into one system. Technologies such as heat pumps, cooling sub-stations can be used for optimising waste heat.”

Purushothaman explains, “Smart energy solutions — district energy and thermal storage that combine cooling and heating — are highly energy and resource-efficient and an affordable solution to help minimise the ‘heat island effect.’ Through connected buildings, we can create more efficient urban areas. Various technologies are available but they are used in silos. Unlocking the enormous benefits derived from true connectivity and collaboration will help future-proof cities.”

Automotive manufacturer Mahindra & Mahindra is also zeroing in on the technology and has started work on 800 kwe trigeneration power plant. The project is currently being built and scheduled to be installed and energised by mid-2020 at its manufacturing facility in Mumbai.

Coming back to EESL, trigeneration seems to have become an important business stream for the company, with a pipeline of trigeneration projects in excess of 250 MW electrical capacity. It has MoUs with companies such as Tata Motors, Astha Power and others, including luxury hotels.

EESL offers trigeneration as an energy service company through a ‘pay as you save’ mode where its customers do not have to bear upfront costs. This makes it attractive for them to take to trigeneration. It has teamed up with several major players, including GAIL, to create the necessary ecosystem.

Kumar feels major cities will benefit from CHP and trigeneration technology and it’s time to watch out for trigeneration making a difference in achieving energy efficiency.

Published on December 03, 2019
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