GE technology powers, heats and fertilizes California greenhouse

A new federal policy is encouraging investments in combined heat and power technology. For one example of an installation, consider what's happening at the 125-acre Houweling’s Tomatoes operation in California.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

I realize that this is an election year and that many policies being announced by the current adminstration might not be the policy of whatever administration winds up in power in January 2013. But I've been watching some recent practical developments related to combined heat and power technolgy that promise to positively affect the U.S. manufacturing sector.

Combined heat and power technology is represented by to systems that simultaneously provide heating and climate control for the facilities they are supporting. Often, the electricity is generated by a natural gas source, rather than diesel or gasoline. Right now, about 12 percent of the U.S. electricity capacity is produced by systems of this sort, according to estimates from the U.S. Clean Heat & Power Association (USCHPA).

Last week, however, the Obama administration signed an executive order calling for up to 40 gigawatts in new capacity between now and 2020 (mostly in the form of state incentives).

That could bring the contribution of this technology up to around 30 percent of the electricity consumed in the United States.

"Accelerating these investments in our nation's factories can improve the competitiveness of United States manufacturing, lower energy costs, free up future capital for businesses to invest, reduce air pollution, and create jobs," said President Obama in his executive order.

That remains to be seen, but one example of an installation that represents the potential of combined heat and power is the 125-acre Houweling’s Tomatoes operations in Camarillo, Calif.

The company is using two GE 4.36-megawatt (MW) Jenbacher J624 two-staged turbocharged natural gas engines (pictured below) in combination with a GE-designed CO2 fertilization system to provide electricity and hot water for its greenhouses, as well as carbon dioxide for fertilizing the plants.

The GE engines running the system are powered by natural gas.

Overall, the system can generate 8.7 MW of electricity and 10.6 MW of hot water. It will also save the greenhouse about 9,500 gallons of water per day, because Houweling's can reuse the water condensed out of the system's exhaust gas. The technology was approved for inconnection to the local utility. Extra technology reprocesses carbon dioxide for use in fertilizing the plants.

"This CHP system will provide the necessary heat, power and CO2 for the growth of our fresh greenhouse tomatoes,” said Casey Houweling, owner of the greenhouse facility, in a statement. "However, the impact of this project on the region goes far beyond the vegetables produced in the greenhouse. This ultra-high-efficiency CHP plant also will provide flexible power to our local utility with a very short response time."

So far, GE has installed more than 800 gas-fired CHP units worldwide. This is the first one in the United States. It will be used primarily to contribute electricity and thermal energy during peak load times. 

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