In the next few weeks, UR will begin the transition toward cogeneration, a thermodynamic process that will greatly reduce the university’s energy-related emissions through electricity and heat production for the River Campus and Strong Medical Center.Currently, a local power plant provides the university facilities with electricity while the Central Utilities Plant, located between the River Campus and the Medical Center, produces steam and chilled water to heat and cool buildings.UR Director of Central Utilities David Weed is currently coordinating the construction of the new hot water distribution system, starting with underground piping within the next few weeks. “In a very simplistic sense, cogeneration refers to the simultaneous production of heat and electricity, and we can accomplish this with two turbines and a new boiler which will be added to the Central Utilities Plant,” Weed said. “This project will help us avoid further utility repair costs and it is extremely environmentally friendly,” he said. “Although the concept of cogeneration at the River Campus has been around since 1927, we’ve been aggressively looking into it for the last 10 to 15 years. Now with the complete deregulation of electricity in the state of New York starting January 1, and the rising price of natural gas, the concept of cogeneration is extremely attractive.”Continuing, Weed said, “We will seriously reduce energy-related emissions by generating 50 percent of the electricity used on the River Campus and the Medical Center with practically no increase in the amount of natural gas used. The new boilers will produce steam which will turn a turbine to generate electricity, and at the same time provide hot water to heat our buildings.” The projected environmental benefits, according to the Facilities Cogeneration Web site, include an annual reduction of 33,000 tons of CO2 emissions, 56 tons of nitrogen oxides and 112.5 tons of sulfur oxides.Associate Vice President of Facilities and Services Richard Pifer recently hosted a public participation meeting for community members on cogeneration. According to Pifer, UR Energy Manager Morris Pierce has been the driving force behind this energy-saving project.”Every time the university welcomes a new president, he comes on board saying ‘the university is way behind the times,’ and sets off to improve whatever he considers particularly important. [UR President] Tom Jackson was appalled by the poor state of the computer network and now we have a state-of-the-art wireless network. Our heating system, however, hasn’t changed since the River Campus first opened in 1930,” Pierce said. “Now that natural gas prices are starting to get extremely expensive it makes sense to take the step toward cogeneration. Continuing, Pierce said, “We generate steam at 373 degrees in the plant and it travels through the pipes, loses energy and becomes hot water at 180 degrees to heat the buildings, which is very wasteful. We will now heat water to 180 degrees in the plant and send it out through new pipes, which will retain the heat. The energy that had been wasted will now be used to create electricity.” Pierce, who wrote his dissertation on the history of cogeneration, has also helped to organize student-led efforts such as the future construction of an environmentally sustainable Optics/Biomedical facility, and is researching wind-energy for the university. According to Pifer, changes due to the cogeneration project can already be seen. The smoke stack, a once obvious landmark of the Central Utilities Plant, is half-removed and will eventually be completely replaced by a major addition and several cooling powers which will provide backup electricity in case of a power-grid malfunction.”Cogeneration will have both financial and operational advantages. The majority of the equipment dates back to the mid-60s, so this will help us avoid continuous repair costs. The new boiler and the hot water will be more thermally efficient then the current steam heating,” he said. “Also, this system will not be any more noisy, it will not be a huge leap in technology and therefore it will not be a major inconvenience for our workers at the plant, but there will be some disruption,” he continued. “21,000 linear feet of pipeline needs to be buried. Specifically on the River Campus there will be a great deal of visible disruption which will start later this month.”According to Pifer the major ground work should take approximately one year, while the whole project will be completed by the fall of 2006. “There are no safety risks for residents in the area, but there will be lots of mud and occasional short-term shut downs of hot water systems, but they won’t last longer than the occasional shutdowns we’ve had in the past due to the usual problems from the older system. The infrastructure on the campus is old and often toys with us, which is why this project, and its temporary inconveniences are necessary.”Welzer can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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