November 5, 2007

Power Plant Aims to Reduce Emissions

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Cornell continues to honor its dedication to the Kyoto Protocol Commitment of 2001 by striving to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the combined heat and power plant on campus by 30 percent.
Carlos Rymer ’08, president of the Sustainability Hub, explained that “the University will reduce the emissions 30 percent below the levels in 1990.”
Edward Wilson, the head of utilities and energy management on campus, explained that currently Cornell is generating all of the steam needed for the heating on campus, but only 15 percent of the electrical needs.
“The renewal project will enable Cornell to continue to meet all of the University’s heating needs and generate 85 percent of its electrical needs,” he said.
Wilson explained that the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions result from the high efficiency that comes from increasing the percentage of electricity generated by 70 percent.
“Natural gas is fired in stationary engines which drive electrical generators and the exhausted heat is used to generate steam. The steam is [then] used to generate additional electricity and the low-grade steam is then used to heat buildings on our campus. Utilization of all the energy possible, down to heating buildings with low-grade steam results in very high efficiencies. Energy efficiencies as high as 75 percent are realized,” Wilson said.
This project is another part of President David Skorton’s pledge for sustainability at Cornell.
Wilson also mentioned that the amount of coal combustion will decrease, lessening the University’s dependence on coal.
Cornell is not the first academic institution to implement this kind of system. Wilson explained that other similar designs for reducing greenhouse gas emissions have been in place for years. An academic institution works best for reducing emissions because of the accessibility of the technology required.
Although the project will not save the University any money because of consumption of more high cost gas, and less low-cost coal, it does have benefits.
“Overall this project will reduce close to one-third [of] the energy consumed to produce Cornell’s electrical and heating needs,” Wilson said.
The new plan is still waiting for full confirmation. Wilson said that the University’s senior administration has approved the project, but further approval is necessary from other agencies at different stages of development; confirmation will need to come from the Town and City of Ithaca and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Wilson explained the other environmental effects of the combined heat and power plant.
“Cornell’s energy footprint will be reduced. Predicted Emission reductions include: an annual reduction of 50,000 tons [or a] percentage reduction of 20 percent [of carbon dioxide] and a reduction of 250 tons or a percentage reduction [of] 55 percent [of nitrous oxide],” Wilson said.
Currently the heating plant on campus is providing the steam that heats 250 University buildings and is used for on-campus research. This steam is the product of six main boilers on campus. Wilson explains that dependency on these boilers is dangerous because if the largest boiler was to break, the remaining five could just barely meet the campus’ heating needs.
Rymer described Cornell’s efforts as “going above and beyond” the Kyoto Protocol Commitment, which he said required a 10 percent reduction.
Rymer also explained another goal of the University on greenhouse gas emissions.
“The task force on carbon neutrality is going to have greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050,” Rymer said. But he expressed optimism that this zero goal may be achieved even earlier.
The University is also working to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.
“I think this will be good for Cornell,” said Regina Meyers ’08. “The plant will increase energy efficiency and similar plants have already been proven to be successful at other universities.”