Hybridizing the Power Supply

With much of coastal Texas without power for so long a time in recent weeks and the approach of the winter storm season in the northern part of the country, it seems evident that alternate sources of electricity that are not dependent on the grid should be examined.

The Climate Energy Corporation has introduced a simple concept to help offset future power outages almost anywhere in the country – a “hybrid” heating system that pairs building heating systems with the generation of electrical power. This concept is far from new, it should be emphasized – much of downtown Manhattan already is heated with steam provided by electric-generation plants.

The Climate Energy system – called the Micro-Combined Heat and Power, or Micro-CHP – uses excess heat from a natural gas heater to generate electricity. The sales pitch to the homeowner (or any other customer) is obvious: The Micro-CHP not only reduces the cost of electricity but also, by using the castoff heat in an innovative way, decreases the system’s carbon footprint.

The connection to emergency preparedness is relatively simple: As long as a building’s natural gas flow continues without interruption, it also will have electricity available. Because the Micro-CHP uses forced hot air, a bypass could be set up to vent the heat during the summer, thereby providing year-around electricity. This option would be better than the use of an emergency generator because the Micro-CHP would defer at least some of its own costs throughout the heating season and, because it would be in use throughout the year, would keep the entire system exercised.

To put this option in perspective, it is worth considering the effect on a first-responder agency planning its own new building: By factoring in the additional cost of a Micro-CHP system the agency would at the same time be ensuring that its own emergency electric power supply would be available. Because most emergency facilities – those already built as well as those planned for future construction – are likely to have already approved the purchase of a generator, the capital cost involved probably would be a wash. However, because the Micro-CHP system would be providing electricity throughout the year – without using additional fuel – relatively large savings could be achieved over a relatively short period of time.

The Real Principle Involved: Maintaining Self-Sufficiency

The bottom line is that this is exactly the type of thinking that is needed in system design. The point of the preceding is not to persuade emergency-responder agencies that acquisition of a Micro-CHP system might be a good idea, but to demonstrate that maintaining self-sufficiency during a crisis does not always and/or necessarily translate into extra cost for the agency – or, of greater importance, for local taxpayers.

This “integration” thought process may well dominate the next generation of planning in the field of emergency preparedness. As used here, that term is not meant to denote that the hybrid heating/power-generation system itself is integrated but, rather, that the planning for everyday functionality should be integrated as closely as possible with the planning for disaster functionality.

With the cost of anything related to the use of fuel still rapidly escalating, the Micro-CHP or any similar device also would provide a much-needed hedge against future increases in fuel costs. The fact that the system has a day-to-day function that can be pressed into service during a crisis does not make it unique. What makes it important, though, is that the day-to-day function can quickly, and at reasonable cost, be expanded to meet emergency requirements – thereby eliminating the need for an additional piece of infrastructure designed and built primarily if not exclusively for emergency use.

With the flexibility of a new equipment item considered essential, how that equipment will be used – both routinely, for the purpose for which it was purchased, and, on the other hand, when it is pressed into service during a crisis – must be foremost in the thoughts of emergency responders as individuals, and in the collective thoughts of emergency-response agencies or private companies on the local, state, and national levels as well.

A field training unit – more specifically, an ambulance where paramedic students worked with two senior paramedics to gain experience – of the Philadelphia Fire Department used to preach the need to “failure proof” equipment by ensuring that a backup plan is already in place if the “standard” or “routine” plan does not work each and every time a specific equipment item is used. The U.S. city/state/national emergency infrastructure should be “failure proofed” in much the same way, from the day the specifications of a specific system are written to the day that piece of equipment wears out.

For additional information, click on: http://www.climate-energy.com/

Joseph Cahill
Joseph Cahill

Joseph Cahill is the director of medicolegal investigations for the Massachusetts Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. He previously served as exercise and training coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and as emergency planner in the Westchester County (N.Y.) Office of Emergency Management. He also served for five years as citywide advanced life support (ALS) coordinator for the FDNY – Bureau of EMS. Before that, he was the department’s Division 6 ALS coordinator, covering the South Bronx and Harlem. He also served on the faculty of the Westchester County Community College’s paramedic program and has been a frequent guest lecturer for the U.S. Secret Service, the FDNY EMS Academy, and Montefiore Hospital.



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