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New plant to meet campus’ energy needs

by Richard Veilleux - September 7, 2005

A co-generation plant that could save the University nearly $180 million in energy costs during the next 20 years is nearly complete, and is expected to be activated by mid-October.

“Co-generation” refers to the plant’s producing multiple forms of energy.

The new plant, connected by a covered walkway to the old central utility plant on Glenbrook Road, will be capable of meeting the heating, cooling, and electricity needs of almost the entire Storrs campus.

The plant is powered primarily by three gas turbines that are modifications of jet engines, and a new steam turbine. One of its key features is that there is very little waste.

The turbines allow UConn to produce its own electricity for the first time, providing immediate savings. Previously, electricity for the campus was purchased from Northeast Utilities. UConn will continue to contract with the utility company, but for emergency back-up power only.

Further savings are anticipated because the turbines can be set to run on either oil or natural gas, whichever is less expensive at the time. They are currently fueled by natural gas.

“The turbines produce a huge amount of heat, up to 1,500 degrees,” says Ken Weseman, chief engineer at the plant.

“Jets just pump that energy into the atmosphere. We contain it, and channel it into a heat recovery steam generator.”

Weseman says if just the turbines were used, 40 percent of the power would be used to create electricity, and 60 percent would be lost up the smokestacks. But, by employing the recovery system, 80 percent of the energy is used to create electricity and steam, and only 20 percent is lost.

The equipment is state-of-the-art and is the most efficient energy producer of its size available, says Derik Dahlen, project manager of the co-generation project.

Each of the three newer gas turbines can produce seven million watts per hour, and the steam turbine produces five million. Between them, they can produce enough energy to heat 80 percent of the campus and cool 60 percent. The rest of the campus’ needs will be met by equipment in the old Central Utility Plant and at a chiller plant behind South Campus.

The gas turbines for electric production were first operated in July, and will be fully tested and commissioned during the next four months before they begin supplying the University’s electricity and steam.

The concept of operating a co-generation plant at UConn was first discussed in the 1990s, when now emeritus engineering professor Lee Langston raised the idea. A study began shortly after that.

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