Today a few of us interns at the OEP visited the Central Utility Plant (CUP) on campus. This plant is very large and essentially powers the entire Storrs campus. It is located right next to the School of Pharmacy, yet is hardly noticed due to its sound-proof walls. The facilities in the CUP themselves are very loud, but students would have no way of realizing that unless they went inside. Today we had the pleasure of going inside thanks to the help of Stephanie Marks and Stan Nolan who work with facilities operations and the OEP.
Before we discuss what it was like going inside the plant, we would like to share a few facts which show how beneficial the CUP is to our school. The CUP has enabled UConn to cut spending on electricity from around $12 million on the Storrs campus in 2005 to under $2 million per year today. The CUP supplies UConn with most of its power throughout the year with the exception of May, when approximately $1 million is spent maintaining the plant. The layout of the CUP encompasses the newer co-generation plant (which provides our electricity), the boiler facilities (which give us steam for heating), and the chilled water facilities (which enable us to provide air conditioning and cold water). The co-generation plant is the major source of electricity at our University. Co-generation refers to one fuel serving many needs: producing electricity, chilled water and steam.
Three jet engines are used to power the entire Storrs campus which can run off of mostly natural gas with the potential for using oil as well. Natural gas is a cleaner fossil fuel than oil and provides 96-98% of the fuel for the plant. Oil is only used in the CUP when natural gas supply is curtailed from the plant on very cold winter days. To supply oil for this plant during these days, UConn has an underground storage of 300,000 gallons of oil. This seems like a lot, but the plant can use up 50,000 gallons in one day! Whichever fuel is used at the CUP, it is used extremely efficiently at about 80% efficiency when the plant is working at its optimum. To put that into perspective, the average car’s use of gas is only around 30% efficient. Compared to other engines, the co-gen system is much more efficient because it traps heat and steam and reuses it to make other products.
From an environmental perspective, complying with monitoring requirements at a utility plant can seem daunting. However, the CUP has such high-technology installed such that monitoring air emissions is a breeze. The CUP utilizes an ammonia system which is able to decrease NOX emissions from the turbines by 90%, which is good because Storrs is located in an EPA non-attainment area.
All in all, touring the CUP was a great experience. Electricity is something most students take for granted, but today we all gained an appreciation for how complicated and important generation is. A big thank you to Stephanie Marks and Stan Nolan for the tour!
-Chris, Dave, and Corinne