Ross Hall, Science and Engineering Hall to get electricity and heat from steam plant

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Nicole Radivilov | Hatchet Staff Photographer

GW will build a steam-powered plant to heat the Science and Engineering Hall and Ross Hall. It will also give those buildings electricity and could be operational as early as this spring.

Things are getting steamy in Ross Hall.

GW is building a power plant that will use steam to generate electricity and heat for Ross Hall and the Science and Engineering Hall. The cogeneration plant, which will be built in Ross Hall’s basement, should be fully up and running by this spring or summer, said Meghan Chapple, the director of GW’s sustainability office.

GW will spend about $13.7 million on the project, according to the fiscal year 2014 capital budget. The plant will provide about two-thirds of the combined energy needed for Ross Hall and the Science and Engineering Hall, University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said.

The cogeneration plant is part of the University’s commitment to meet 10 percent of energy demands through low-carbon technologies by 2040. Using the plant “helps GW reduce its air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions,” Chapple said.

During the winter, the system will serve as Ross Hall’s and the Science and Engineering Hall’s “primary source of heat,” she said.

When the University of Connecticut built a cogeneration plant in 2005, it cost about $80 million to build, according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The plant also reduces carbon dioxide emissions by about 30,000 tons per year, according to the school’s environmental policy office.

Amherst College in Massachusetts has a cogeneration plant that cost $8 million to build and saves the school about $950,000 annually, according to a report from the college.

The plant could also help the Science and Engineering Hall, which opened this semester, earn top marks from the U.S. Green Building Council, which ranks buildings on sustainability. The fourth and fifth floors of Ross Hall have earned gold rankings, the second-highest award level.

Cogeneration plants produce highly pressurized steam to rotate turbines, which then produce heat energy, said Christopher James, a spokesman at New York University. He said NYU’s two-turbine plant also has a chiller to bring down water temperatures.

NYU officials spent about two years building a cogeneration plant, which was completed in 2011, he said. Now, the plant helps power nearly two dozen buildings on campus, about 13 megawatts of power total.

During Superstorm Sandy in 2012, NYU’s buildings were the only ones with electricity in the area because of the underground cogeneration plant, he said.

“Everything below 14th Street, power was off to almost all the buildings, except for this little tiny area within the NYU campus. So we were able to have that resiliency,” James said.

He said cogeneration plants are also about 20 percent more efficient than normal power plants.

Other heating methods typically require expelling any heat through smoke stacks, said Margaret Wooldridge, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Michigan.

“Other power plants have to reject heat,” Wooldridge said. “You can take that heat and use it in other ways. That’s a waste heat recovery type of action.”

University of Michigan uses its cogeneration plant, which has powered campus for at least 100 years, to provide energy to its hospital, she said.

Rutgers University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Union College also have cogeneration plants on their campuses.

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