Co-Generation and Cross Roads House

By Lee Consavage


It’s been a very busy week for us completing Design Development drawings for our latest project, which is providing engineering design services for the new Cross Roads House in Portsmouth, NH. Cross Roads House ( is a non-profit organization providing emergency and longer term assistance to families and individuals in the seacoast area who are in need of food and shelter. Their current facility is greatly in need of repairs and also undersized to meet the needs of those needing assistance. They are a great organization providing a great service and strongly back by the seacoast community. Therefore fund raising efforts to build a new facility have been successful. Ground breaking for the new facility, on the same site in Portsmouth, is expected to occur this Spring 2008.


This is a very exciting project for us since we’re currently designing a co-generation system to create heat and electricity on-site using a Capstone 30 kilowatt microturbine. If all goes well and the funding is available, Cross Roads House may be the first project in New Hampshire to use this highly efficient system.


As the name implies, a microturbine is a miniature version of a turbine used at a power generating facility. In both cases, fuel is used to create steam to spin the turbine which then converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.

Power plants use mostly coal as their fuel source to create electricity and as everyone knows, burning coal at power plants is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Using natural gas to create electricity also produces greenhouse gas emissions, but at a substantially reduce amount when compared with coal. The process to create electricity at power plants, no matter what fuel source is used, still is only about 25% efficient. The 75% of lost energy is in the form of heat which is simply released to the atmosphere. In addition, transmission losses add up to another 7% of lost energy by the time the electricity makes it to our homes and businesses.


But a microturbine (miniature power plant) located in the basement of a facility can be up to 80% efficient in creating the electricity. Actually it really is only about 25% efficient in creating electricity, the same as a power plant. The 80% efficiency is realized since that miniature power plant is in the basement, and all that excess heat generated by creating steam to spin the turbine to create electricity, is captured and stored in hot water tanks. And of course all this hot water can now be used for space heating, laundry, bathing and dishwashing. By the way, the fuel source for the microturbine is the cleaner burning natural gas. Microturbines may also use propane or methane gas as their fuel source.


This huge difference in energy efficiency is equal to removing enough carbon that could be absorbed by 77 acres of forest. It is also equal to removing the carbon emissions from 48 cars. Imagine the greenhouse gas emissions reduction that would result if every home and business could afford their own highly efficient power plant in their basement.


One important point I should mention is that microturbines are only practical to use in facilities that have a great need for hot water year round. Facilities such as hotels and the Cross Roads House meet that requirement.


I’ll keep you updated on whether or not this system gets final approval. Funding would be the only issue preventing this co-generation system from being installed (its expensive) since the Cross Roads House director and the architectural firm designing the new Cross Roads House, Driver-Ryan Architects, are 100% behind this “green” technology.



Seacoast Consulting Engineering
Located in Eliot, Maine
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