Why Locate Power Plants in Cities?

Cities are the best places for large power plants. I read a recent Time Magazine article about the Fisk Coal plant in Chicago and its cost in respiratory problems to the citizens of that great city. Time hinted that the city isn’t a good place for a power plant but I would disagree.

The city of Graz Austria burns wood chips at around 85% thermal efficiency with far less pollution than American coal plants. Most American electric generating plants  burn coal, a much better fuel than wood chips, at around 30% thermal efficiency. The difference is that the Graz plant and many plants in Europe use the waste heat from the turbine generators to heat homes in a city. To use the waste heat, the plant must be near a city. The Graz plant heats 50,000 homes. The Graz plant produces 2.8 times as much useful energy as Chicago’s Fisk plant, while using waste wood for fuel. Air pollution technology has advanced dramatically in the past 10 years. Americans need to adopt this technology called either combined heat and power or co-generation.


You can’t move the heat very far. In Austria, hot water flows under the streets, pumped from a tank at the plant that is around 200 feet high and 125 feet in diameter. The homes just have a circulating pump and associated controls. Combined heat and power could at least double the useful energy we harvest from our power plants.

The transition would take a lot of time and money but without this change, America is unlikely to reduce its greenhouse gases from the electric power sector significantly without a tripling of electricity costs, which is also necessary.

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