November 27, 2007

Cornell to Reduce Winter Energy Use

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As fall transitions to winter in Ithaca, the weather becomes even worse and the temperature drops to obscene levels. Preventing Cornellians from freezing to death is Cornell’s Central Heating Plant, which provides copious amounts of heating every year. However, since last winter, several important changes have occurred on campus that will directly affect Cornell’s energy footprint this winter — the opening of new academic and residential buildings and President David Skorton’s pledge for sustainability at Cornell.
“There are two new [academic] buildings this winter — the Life Sciences Technology Building and the East Campus Research Facility — which will increase energy usage, but we are examining each building,” said James Adams, director of the Department of Utilities and Energy Management in Facilities Services.
Additionally, Hans Bethe House on West Campus opened in January of this year, so this will be the first full winter of its operations. Compared to the old residential buildings which it replaced, namely Class of ’17 Hall, Class of ’26 Hall, and Sperry Hall, Hans Bethe House requires more energy to operate due to the extra amenities and services it provides, such as air conditioning and dining facilities.
However, the biggest factor contributing to Cornell’s winter energy usage is the weather, and thus far this fall the temperature has been a little bit lower than last fall’s. Whereas it was still relatively warm in December and into January last winter, temperatures have already dropped into the teens over Thanksgiving this year.
“Weather is a huge factor — our energy usage can vary 10 to 20 percent depending. Up to now, the weather certainly hasn’t been colder, it’s slightly warmer than normal,” Adams said. “If the weather is the same and you factor in our new energy positives and negatives, it’s hard to tell.”
Among the positives affecting Cornell’s winter energy outlook is the continuing implementation of the Combined Heat and Power Project, which aims to combine the production of heat and electricity in a way that will achieve the same results as separate production, but using significantly less energy.
According to the CHPP website, “The CHPP will add two gas turbine generators, totaling a nominal 30,000 kilowatts of electrical output, with heat recovery steam generators at the current central heating plant. The gas turbines will combust natural gas to turn large electric generators. Exhaust heat leaving the gas turbines will then provide the heat energy to produce steam for campus needs.”
“To produce 45 units of heat and 30 units of electricity, separate heat and power systems typically require 154 energy units of input. For the same output, a typical Combined Heat and Power system uses only 100 energy units, a 35 percent reduction.”
Ironically, another positive factor contributing to Cornell’s energy footprint is its use of coal as 90 percent of its energy source. While coal produces more carbon emissions than natural gas, it is also considerably cheaper. To reconcile coal’s economic value with its low environmental sustainability, Cornell is looking toward cogeneration, the central feature of the CHPP, and increasing the use of bio-fuels.
“There is a planned shift away from coal in terms of cogeneration, but the University at this point needs to maintain its coal heating capability. We use coal for its reliability and the fact that its price is a little less than half of gas. However, we are expecting to decrease the usage of coal by 30 to 50 percent with the CHPP,” Adams said.