German Company Wants to Generate Both Heat and Light In Your Basement


Lichtblick power plant

The German power company Lichtblick wants to install thousands of miniature thermal generating plants in people's basements. Based on a Volkswagen design, these generators would burn natural gas to produce heat and hot water for a home or an apartment building and generate electricity which would be supplied to the national grid. As Businessweek reports:

The centerpiece of the new mini power plant system is a natural gas powered engine used in some Volkswagen Golf models. Thanks to the engine's highly intelligent design—and the fact that the heat it produces can be directly used to heat the house—the efficiency factor of the Volkswagen mini thermal power plant lies at around 94 percent.

That's significant since many modern coal and gas-fired plants produce a lot of waste heat which means that they are generally around 40 percent efficient. And even better, the miniature power plants can be turned on to generate electricity when wind and solar power falters. However, the article goes on to note:

The ambitious new project could be worth billions of euros and generate enough electricity to replace up to two nuclear power stations or even coal-fired power plants in the near future.

Hmmm. If one is worried about man-made global warming, why would you want to replace two non-carbon dioxide emitting nuclear power plants with thousands of little CO2 producers?

In addition, the article says that Lichtblick will be able to sell the electricity produced by the tiny power plants for a "tidy profit." That's fine. But the article doesn't mention whether or not that profit depends on special feed-in tariff rates. In Germany, utilities must buy electricity produced by solar power from homeowners at around 60 cents per kilowatt hour. For comparison, the U.S. average household retail rate is 12 cents per kilowatt hour. 

And oh, did you know that Germany imports about 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia? Still, co-generation is a very neat technical idea.