Case study: university campus CHP

Cogeneration systems—also known as combined heat and power (CHP) systems—generate both electricity and usable thermal energy. These systems typically are used on campuses that have high heat load requirements.


In 2007, a major East Coast research university’s climate change task force introduced climate commitments for the university, including a 51% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025. Subsequent investigation of opportunities for emissions reduction from different sources determined that the largest opportunity would be the installation of a CHP facility at the central utility plant serving the university’s 5-million-sq-ft main academic campus. By generating electricity and capturing waste heat to heat buildings in winter and operate central cooling equipment in summer, the CHP system represented an opportunity to reduce energy consumption and operating costs, and reduce the campus carbon footprint.

To select an appropriately sized unit for the university’s current and future needs, duration curves, monthly electric usage data, and campus demand totals were assembled. The total load factor for electricity use was developed incorporating commodity cost. The local grid and regional transmission grid verified a real electrical cost (it had doubled over the previous decade). After including consideration of the steam-load duration curve, an initial recommendation for a 3,500-kW CHP unit was made.

Figure 3: This 4.6-MW (nominal) combustion turbine, which provides electrical power for a 5-million-sq-ft university campus, is part of a CHP system that realizes annual operational cost savings of approximately $1.5 million and CO2 reductions of 9,500 metric tons.With interest in future campus growth, further analysis was completed to weigh any potential negative impacts in selecting a larger unit that could provide excess steam load to be used in the summer. Ultimately, the owner favored a system consisting of a nominal 4.6-MW CT and a heat recovery steam generator (see Figure 3). This CHP is operated as a base-load unit generating 4.6 MW of electrical power at 13.2 kV and 25,000 lb/hr of steam at 125 psi. The steam output is connected to the existing campus steam distribution system to supplement existing boiler steam generation and serve the campus heating loads (see Figure 4). The electrical output operates in parallel to the incoming electric utility to reduce overall energy demand from the campus’ electrical distribution system. To fully use the CHP’s electric and steam output, modifications were made to the campus’ 13.2-kV electrical distribution system to shift campus electric loads to the CHP system. To fully use steam loads during summer, a large electric-driven condenser water pump used for campus cooling was changed over to a steam-turbine-driven pump.

Figure 4: Output from a stack-and-heat recovery steam generator, shown with a gas booster, connects to the existing distribution system to supplement boiler steam generation serving campus heating loads, and also drives a condenser water pump used for cooling during summer.To make the transition as simple as possible for operators new to cogeneration, the CHP system was base-loaded and natural gas and electric contracts were obtained through the payback period. No back-end pollution controls were required, nor was additional plant operations staff needed.

Completed in June 2011 at a construction cost of $7.4 million, the project has resulted in operational cost savings of approximately $1.5 million/year and is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 9,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year (equivalent to eliminating 1,750 automobiles, or planting 2,200 acres of forest), as well as reducing nitrogen oxide—associated with ground-level ozone, a severe nonattainment area concern—by 45 tons/year.

About the authors

Jerry Schuett is a principal and leader of the energy and utilities market at Affiliated Engineers Inc. with more than 35 years of experience designing and managing energy and utility projects.

David Cunningham is a project manager at Affiliated Engineers Inc. with more than 15 years of experience designing major utility projects—including heat and power—across the country.

Product of the Year
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
40 Under Forty: Get Recognized
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
MEP Giants Program
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
November 2018
Emergency power requirements, salary survey results, lighting controls, fire pumps, healthcare facilities, and more
October 2018
Approaches to building engineering, 2018 Commissioning Giants, integrated project delivery, improving construction efficiency, an IPD primer, collaborative projects, NFPA 13 sprinkler systems.
September 2018
Power boiler control, Product of the Year, power generation,and integration and interoperability
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Data Center Design
Data centers, data closets, edge and cloud computing, co-location facilities, and similar topics are among the fastest-changing in the industry.
click me