Peter Caty/The Mirror

Where does all the heat on campus come from?  The answer lies in a not so well known building on campus.  It is located between the Fairfield Prep and Grauert Field and it is called the Central Utility Facility (CUF).

In this building, there are around 15 engineers, mechanics and plumbers that, according to the University website, “Are responsible for all heating, cooling, electrical, plumbing, and water distribution systems, controls, and related services on campus.”  Although you may have never even noticed this building, it is the heart of campus. It is the force that allows the campus to be inhabited.

However, the facility is not any regular power plant. It is a state-of-the-art system that provides nearly all the campus’ electricity and utilizes the waste heat that is generated through this process in order to supply heating or cooling to all of the campus buildings connected to the main campus loop.

The electric plant itself generates an average of 4200 kW of energy.  This is comparable to running over 120,000 fluorescent lights.  This amount of energy is able to keep all campus functions powered.  In a normal facility, the waste heat generated by the production of electricity would be lost in the air.

But in the Central Utility Facility, the waste heat is captured and is pushed through heat pumps and coils until it is fully recycled and ready to be transported through underground ducts throughout campus.  The waste heat also heats the hot water used on campus.  The facility is best utilized in the cold winter months because this is when 100% of the waste heat is put through the recycling process.

Although the Central Utility Facility was originally completed in 1970, the co-generation system was not commissioned until 2007.  The concept arose in 2005 as a result of deregulation and high-energy costs.  In addition, the particular unit that the University designed would have an enormous carbon reduction effect.  Originally designed by United Technologies, the project itself cost the University about $10 million.

United Illumination (UI), which provides electricity for around 324,000 residents in the greater New Haven and Fairfield areas, provided the University with a $2.3 million grant to aid in the funding of the project.  Since then, the project has already paid for itself.  According to William Romatzick, the manager of Energy Controls and Plant Systems, the University saves around $130,000 each month when utilizing this superior technology.  So what does this mean for the students? Romatzick said, “This system allows the University to keep tuition rates lower.  Without it, tuition would be significantly higher.”

The facility isn’t a flawless system, though.  Power outages have occurred in the past. According to Romatzick, this is “usually due to a mechanical switch failure as a result of importing more energy than the system’s capacity.” Other than that minor setback, the facility is also prepared to handle emergency situations.

In fact, the plant is equipped to handle large groups of people in the event of a natural disaster. For this event, the plant could power cafeterias or whatever else was needed. In addition to this, the facility is also ready for a backup plan in the event that the building itself fails. UI would be able to effectively power the campus in this unlikely event. Under these terms, the University is required to constantly import and purchase at least 100 kW from UI.

Another interesting feature of the facility is its ecological footprint.  In addition to saving energy on heating, the plant is noted and praised for its low carbon footprint. Romatzick claims that Fairfield has reduced carbon emissions by ten metric tons.  The plant was the first co-generation system of its type built in the east coast.  Currently, there are only five other similar systems operating in the northeast region.

Dr. Clement Anekwe, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, praises the Central Utility Facility.  “The use of a cogeneration plant is important for an establishment like Fairfield University because the unit cost of energy is much lower than the unit cost from the utility companies.”  He added, “This is because in a co-generation power plant, energy that would have been lost in a conventional power plant is recovered and then used for other purposes such as domestic water heating.”

So then, why aren’t schools, hospitals, and businesses lining up to get their own co-generation plant?  Anekwe believes that “Lack of information and affordable initial capital to construct the plant might be the problem.”

“Utility companies and the government should do a better job in presenting data and other information to schools and large businesses with regard to the long-term economic and environmental benefits of institutional cogeneration power plants.  In addition the government can assist these institutions in obtaining loans at low interest rates for cogeneration power plants.”  In our specific case, the university was able to use the prime conditions to their advantage.

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