WASHINGTON -- Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning has issued a challenge for the Army to commission 50 megawatts of new combined heat and power (CHP) projects annually over the next four years.

CHP, also known as co-generation, is on-site electricity generation that captures waste heat to provide useful thermal energy. The captured heat can be used for space heating, cooling, domestic hot water, and industrial processes. It offers a number of benefits compared to conventional electricity and thermal energy production, including greater efficiency and reliability.

A typical generator operates at about a 30 to 50 percent efficiency level. However, if the waste energy is captured, the efficiency can be increased up to as much as 70 to 80 percent. Using what would otherwise be a waste product reduces energy consumption.

CHP also makes sense when there is a localized need for both power and thermal energy. There are potentially many locations and situations where the Army could conserve fuel and save energy by installing CHP to create hot water, rather than operating local generators and boilers.

The Army still operates industrial processes that were installed during World War II to manufacture propellants, explosives, ammunition, and highly purified chemicals and metals. In those days, the Army focused on quick set-up, reliability, and simplicity in controls systems.

Today, with computer- operated controls, industrial processes can be finessed to optimum efficiency levels to extract the maximum possible output for each unit of input, including fuel. These aging industrial facilities may be good candidates for modernization with current CHP technology.

CHP also offers an alternative to the regional electrical grid and can ensure that mission-critical functions on installations are maintained even in the event that access to the regional electrical grid is severed.