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Power towers

Utility system saves University millions, reduces greenhouse gas emissions

Published: Monday, July 23, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07


Jennifer Nguyen -- THE BATTALION

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Power towers

Utility system saves University millions, reduces greenhouse gas emissions

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Generating up to 50 megawatts of power, Texas A&M University’s Central Utility Plant produces two-thirds of campus power through its combined heat and power generation system. The $73.25 million system which is about to reach its first birthday has covered its own costs in the past year, and is saving the University money which can be invested in other high priority requirements.

Jim Riley, executive director of Utilities and Energy Services said, “The system operates continuously to provide two-thirds of the campus electrical power plus thermal energy for cooling and heating campus.”

The Combined Heat and Power system is projected to have an annual cost avoidance of $6 to $10 million with a payback period of less than 10 years.  After it pays itself off, the system is expected to last an additional 20 years.

While reaching 80 percent efficiency, it is providing a reliable on-site electrical and thermal energy source for the campus, Riley said.

The University spends $30 million each year on purchased utilities and about $40 million is spent on operation, maintenance, and costs that deal with the utilities and energy services, totaling $70 million in expenditures.

Although the campus is in the expansion process, the amount of energy consumption has reduced by 25 percent with a 40 percent reduction in energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions on a per-square-foot basis over a ten-year period. “This energy consumption
reduction has saved the University over $140 million in ten years, which has paid for the majority of the required improvements,” Riley said. 


Faculty members said the new system is an additional helper in this recent reduction of energy consumption.  


“In a typical fossil fuel power generation plant, power generation efficiency is around 35 percent with a 5 percent line loss from source to site which nets a delivered on-site efficiency of 30%,” said Charlie Shear, supervisor of the Energy Stewardship program.  “A modern CHP like TAMU’s will have a high efficiency of 75 to 80 percent.”


Shear also said higher efficiency reduces energy consumption and cost, as well as significant reduction in emissions and carbon footprint.


Without such a system, the University would be paying between $6 and $10 million more each year to provide heat and energy on campus.


Le Xie, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering said, “Since it was built recently, the efficiency of this type of system is much more advanced than the ones 30 or 40 years ago.”


The hot summer months have failed to block out the success of the system.


“The CHP is meeting and exceeding expectations for both reliability and efficiency.  Inlet air pre-cooling uses chilled water at 42 F to cool the inlet air to the gas turbine, thereby allowing the gas turbine generator to produce maximum output even on the hottest of summer days,” Riley said.


The University also has a general electric and steam system, which has operated continuously longer than any other in the region with power generation since 1893.  


Riley said an extensive network of electrical distribution and water distribution and collection systems serve more than 700 buildings on campus, and provide utility services to more than 5,000 acres.



Xie said having such a system increases the reliability of campus, because if something happened to the outside world, the campus is still going to be functioning.


When asked if our systems were up to date, Riley said, “Absolutely.  Texas A&M can proudly claim to have some of the most modern and advanced utility production facilities in the nation.”


In an effort to contribute to these savings, Shear encourages students, faculty, and staff to turn off electrical appliances such as lighting and computers when not in use

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