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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 6, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 6
Going Green With Watts and Steam

University announces plan for first cogeneration plant

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

When Johns Hopkins recently saw an opportunity to simultaneously save some green and be "green," the decision was clear: You greenlight the project, of course.

The university next year plans to build a cogeneration plant on the Homewood campus that will supply a significant portion of the campus's energy needs and will reduce its electric bill by an estimated 15 percent.

The proposed plant, which will run on natural gas, will generate not less than 3.5 megawatts of electricity — roughly 20 percent of the campus's current peak requirements. It will save the university $1.5 million annually and, because JHU will purchase less electricity from regional coal-burning power plants, will reduce the campus's carbon footprint.

"Cogeneration" refers to creation of both power and heat. The plant's turbine drives a generator that creates electricity to help power buildings; meanwhile, a heat recovery unit captures the turbine's exhaust to make steam used to supply hot water and heat.

In 2007, electricity on the Homewood campus cost $10 million. Faced with soaring utility costs, Johns Hopkins decided now was the right time to take energy-production matters into its own hands, said Larry Kilduff, executive director of facilities.

Kilduff said that the university has considered the viability of cogeneration power for the Homewood campus since 2000, but the economics never made sense until now.

"The physical growth of the campus, on one hand, provided the opportunity to take advantage of the waste-heat product," Kilduff said, "but it was the steeply rising cost of fuel and electricity that all of a sudden made this a very attractive and significant savings."

Kilduff said the proposed plant could pay for itself in less than five years.

The addition of a cogeneration plant, Kilduff said, dovetails nicely with the university's Climate Change initiative and its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint. The cogeneration plant alone represents at least a 10,000 metric ton reduction in annual carbon dioxide emissions, Kilduff said.

Davis Bookhart, manager of Energy Management and Environmental Stewardship in the Office of Facilities Management, said that the Homewood cogeneration project is "by far the single most significant opportunity to date for taking a huge bite out of our greenhouse gas emissions.

"To put this in perspective, we would need roughly 175,000 solar panels — enough to blanket the entire Homewood campus two times over — to offset that much CO2," said Bookhart, who is also chair of the Johns Hopkins Sustainability Committee, a 16-member group convened by President William R. Brody to enhance the university's environmental profile.

Bookhart added that the plant's design allows for increased generation capacity in the future.

David Ashwood, director of plant operations for the Homewood campus, described the future Homewood plant as a "small jet engine." Specifically, he said, as the spinning turbine drives a generator creating electricity, the heat recovery unit will capture the engine's exhaust to make 20,000 pounds of steam per hour, the base level that the campus can efficiently use year-round. The steam will be used to heat the campus's water and its buildings, to power coolers for air conditioning and to provide steam to kitchens in residence halls and the Johns Hopkins Club.

During the summer months, the plant should allow the university to turn off the Power House boilers, Ashwood said.

The new plant will be an addition to the existing campus Power House, located at the northern tip of Whitehead Hall. The modest two-story addition will be built on the site of the current 14-space parking lot.

The university expects to put out a request for bids in January. If all goes as planned, construction will begin in March and the plant put online in October. State-issued bonds will help cover the cost of the plant's $7.5 million price tag.

Since the plant runs on natural gas, it will have the added benefit of being a source of emergency power. In the event of a power outage, the plant could power up a significant portion of the campus, Ashwood said, and keep many critical facilities running. He added that the generator will require minimal maintenance and will run continually.

Energy production is not new to Homewood. The Power House was built in 1914 to provide a source of power for the then fledgling campus. The building was expanded in 1948 and still provides all the university's steam and heat, as well as a large portion of the air conditioning needs.

Cogeneration technology had been around for decades, and a number of universities have already gone this route, including Cornell, Yale, Rice, Princeton and Stanford. Johns Hopkins will be only the second university in the state to have its own cogeneration plant, however. The University of Maryland in 2003 constructed a $70 million, 27-megawatt plant in College Park to help reduce its own massive energy bill.

Johns Hopkins Medicine is currently engaged in a feasibility study for the addition of a cogeneration plant on the East Baltimore campus.


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