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Region 9 Laboratory - Mechanical Upgrades

photo: cogeneration unit

Richmond's cogeneration unit. The black pipe on the front left of the unit is the natural gas feed line.

Note: As of May 2006, the following project was not performing as well as anticipated, so EPA initiatied a study to determine the cause for the shortfall in anticipated energy savings.

In September 2005, a series of mechanical upgrades was completed at the Region 9 Laboratory in Richmond, California. The upgrades are expected to reduce the facility's energy demand by approximately 21 percent. The upgrades included installation of a natural gas-fired cogeneration unit for electricity and hot water; replacement of one oversized boiler with two smaller, efficient boilers; and a series of control upgrades for the HVAC system.

Cogeneration, which is also referred to as a combined heat and power system, involves the generation of electricity and the capture and use of otherwise wasted heat energy byproducts.

The cogeneration unit installed at the Richmond Laboratory uses natural gas to generate electricity with a 60-kilowatt (kW) combustion engine that is integrated into the laboratory's heating system. In addition to reducing the building's electrical load on the local grid, the process of converting natural gas into electricity produces a significant amount of heat.

To make use of this otherwise wasted heat energy, a bundle of water-filled coils absorbs the engine's heat output to make hot water for the building's hydronic heating system. If needed to meet the heat load of the building, hot water from the cogeneration unit can be combined with hot water generated by the new small boilers. The cogeneration unit is expected to produce enough hot water to meet approximately 80 percent of the building's heating needs.

The cogeneration system is projected to reduce the amount of electricity the facility will need to purchase from the local utility provider, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) Exit EPA Disclaimer, by more than 25 percent. At the same time, the increased efficiency of the cogeneration system and the new small boilers will require less natural gas than had previously been needed to heat the building using the old large boiler. In addition, PG&E provides the natural gas used in the combustion engine at a reduced rate due to its use in an on-site generation system. The project also received support from PG&E in the form of a Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) rebate of $60,000. SGIPs offer financial incentives to their customers who install certain types of distributed generation systems to meet all or a portion of their energy needs.

Diagram of Richmond cogeneration system.

Diagram of the cogeneration system at the Richmond laboratory.

The entire facility upgrade is expected to be fully paid for by the utility rebate and day-to-day cost savings within three to seven years, depending on energy prices.

Learn more about the Richmond Laboratory's cogeneration unit in the Cogeneration at Work, Region 9 Laboratory, Richmond, California (PDF) (2 pp, 576K,About PDF) brochure.


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