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A Power Plant for the Home

Basement furnaces generate electricity, too

4 min read

When you flip on a light switch in an average American home, the light bulb probably uses electricity generated in a far-away power plant. But that is not the most efficient way to use fuels--twoâ''thirds of their energy is lost as waste heat at the plant and while traveling over power lines.

What if the power plant were sitting in your home’s basement instead? Combined heat and power (CHP) systems can utilize up to 90 percent of a fossil fuel’s energy by simultaneously generating heat and electricity on-site, reducing energy consumption and slashing utility bills. Such systems already power hospitals, university campuses, and large petrochemical factories, and they are widely used for district heating in Denmark, the Netherlands, and other northern European countries. But only in the last few years has the technology evolved to the point that it can power and heat individual homes. Recently gaining popularity in Europe and Japan, micro-CHP, as it’s called, has now broken into the lucrative U.S. market.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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