Combined Heat and Power for the Home Now a Reality

The generation of most electricity produces enormous amounts of heat which is typically wasted – literally up the chimney. Cogeneration – or “Combined Heat and Power” – systems make use of this otherwise wasted heat to warm buildings. Much of Manhattan is heated this way courtesy of several con-edison plants in the vicinity. It’s a brilliant solution to improve energy efficiency in an urban area, but doesn’t work so well in less urban areas. There, people typically rely on their own natural gas furnaces to heat their homes.
But what if you could reverse the cogeneration idea? Imagine taking an already efficient gas furnace and generating a home’s electricity directly from it, while it heats?
That’s the reality that Marathon Engine has in store for the North American market today. While not quite a start-up (they’ve been selling units in Europe for 5 years), the company’s “EcoPower MicroCHP” units look set to sell well, despite, or perhaps because of the economy downturn.

The EcoPower unit is not only capable of generating all of a sizable home’s heating and electric needs – it can also sell excess generation back to a utility (assuming Net Metering is in legal and in place). The larger the home, the better the paypack which makes the system particularly suited for multi-family buildings and small businesses with strong heating needs. It’s also best used in cold climates where heat is required for most months of the year – you won’t find much use for it in Phoenix.
As for greenhouse gases, the company claims (see PDF here) to offer a 65% reduction in CO2 emissions vs a coal powered equivalent. In reality it’s very difficult to measure the reduction because there are so many factors that might go in to what the device replaces and what kind of heating and electric demand is called for.
The only drawback is that the EcoPower isn’t cheap – coming in at a whopping $35,000. But for a large home, the device could apparently pay for itself in a half-dozen years or so. Despite the cost, if it works, and as long as energy prices stay high, economies of scale will likely bring the EcoPower within reach of more consumers.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

4 responses

  1. Now a reality? This actually has been a reality for awhile now:
    I installed the “Freewatt Ready” system this year, which is basically a normal high-efficiency boiler, except that it’s configured so that I can slap on the generator piece as soon as I have the $ to do so (forecast mid-2010).

  2. Combined heat & power doesn’t only work in urban areas. In fact, it’s usually not used for homes at all. More often, it’s used at manufacturing plants, universities, and other energy-gobbling institutions. They build their own CHP plant, which is far more efficient than what they’d get off the grid. And there is a massive opportunity to do more, though regulations tend to get in the way.
    Full disclosure: I’m associated with Recycled Energy Development, which does CHP and waste energy recovery. So I’m not unbiased on this. But the reason I’m involved is the sheer potential: DOE and EPA estimates suggest CHP and waste energy recovery could slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. That’s as much as if we removed every passenger vehicle from the road. Meanwhile, costs would fall due to increased efficiency.

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