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05/27/2003 07:00:00

Caltech Installs Environmentally Friendly Power Generation SystemAnticipates Major Cost Savings

PASADENA, Calif.—The California Institute of Technology will begin start-up tests on a new $10 million cogeneration facility in July of this year. When fully operational, the new facility will save an additional $2.5 million per year in avoided energy costs above the savings of its predecessor and will reduce overall emissions by 66 percent.

The combined-cycle facility, which includes a 10-megawatt natural-gas turbine, a steam generator, and a 2.5-megawatt steam turbine, will provide electrical power and steam. The steam will be used for heating and air conditioning of campus buildings. The old gas/steam turbines produced 5.5-megawatts of power.

With this system the Institute will be able to produce power at a much lower cost. "We expect payback on our investment in roughly four to five years," says Reza Ohadi, director of campus operations.

By acting as the general contractor, Caltech is saving several million dollars in avoided management costs and fees on the project.

Art Elbert, associate vice president for campus planning, says a bond measure made the $10 million project possible for the 2,000-student campus.

Caltech is one of only a handful of universities nationwide to operate its own power plant. "The vast majority of college campuses buy their power from an external provider," says Ben Smith, facilities improvement program manager. "They don't have the facilities or personnel to run their own cogeneration plant."

The cogeneration team includes mechanics, engineers, electricians, system analysts, and other tradespeople, including subcontractors.

The new cogeneration facility is one of several ambitious projects designed to cut Caltech's energy costs and to ensure reliable power to the campus. Since last November, workers have gutted Central Plant of its old cogeneration system, the large jet aircraft engine that provided the campus with about 40 percent of its electrical power. The new facility will constitute Caltech's third-generation cogeneration plant—the first was built in 1968 and the second in 1982.

In July, when the project is completed, the new turbines will be capable of generating between 10 and 12 megawatts for a campus that requires up to 15 megawatts of power at the height of the summer; it will be providing approximately 80 to 90 percent of the power the Institute uses.

The Institute worked closely with the Southern California Air Quality Management Board when it selected its new equipment. The new facility will reduce its nitrous oxide emissions from 9 parts per million to 2.5 parts per million. "This will be the most efficient and cleanest burning engine that we've ever had," says Dan Buckelew, central utility plant supervisor.

Another major project will take advantage of the way the price of electricity varies during a 24-hour period. Power is more expensive during peak daytime hours and is cheaper at night. By constructing a thermal-energy storage facility, Caltech will be able to take advantage of off-peak hours to run its chillers and produce large quantities of chilled water, which will be stored under the north athletic field. During the day, the chillers will be turned off, and the chilled water will be routed throughout the campus, providing relief from high daytime temperatures. The cost of construction for the thermal-energy storage facility is estimated at about $6 million.

Elbert, who oversees all the construction, renovations, operations, and maintenance for Caltech, states that "any institution could take advantage of these kinds of savings. The payback is less than five years and the savings could be realized for a generation, making this a very attractive investment.

Contact: Jill Perry (626) 395-3226

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