Thomas Edisons Cogen Plant
The World’s First Commercial Power Plant was a Cogeneration Plant!
Cogeneration and trigeneration systems are becoming increasingly attractive options for businesses and consumers alike because of the cost, emissions, reliability, and power quality advantages that these systems can provide. While there have been significant improvements in the technologies that are making them more attractive to potential users, the benefits of cogeneration are not new.
Few people realize that the very first commercial power plant in the United States — Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station, which was built in lower Manhattan in 1882 — was not only the first power plant in the United States it was also the first cogeneration plant as it made and distributed both electricity and thermal energy. Clearly, cogeneration is a proven technology with a long track record of successful performance.
Why is it important for us to expand the use of cogeneration in our economy and around the world?
Two-thirds of the fuel used to make electricity today in the United States is wasted. While there have been impressive energy efficiency gains in other sectors of the economy since the oil price shocks of the 1970s, the average efficiency of power generation in the United States has stagnated at around 33 percent since 1960. The thermal losses in power plants total approximately 23 quadrillion BTUs of energy, representing one-quarter of total energy consumption in the United States, enough energy to fuel the nation’s entire transportation fleet, Japan’s entire economy, or the annual energy production of Saudi Arabia. This energy waste means higher than needed emissions of pollutants like sulfur dioxides, oxides of nitrogen, particulates, volatile organic compounds, and greenhouse gases.
It is important to acknowledge that increasing the use of cogeneration systems is – and has been, for over one hundred years – one of the best technologies available for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving fuel.