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UConn electricity is self-sufficient

By Nathan Sapier
On January 30, 2014

When things go well, most people don't question or even wonder where these things come from. When people are faced with disaster, they start asking questions. A good example is our utilities. Most people don't question where their water and electricity comes from, as long as they can plug in their laptops. But when they are disrupted people go exploring. Thus, a mission was made to explore the Central Utility Plant.
The tour was given by Stanley Nolan, the energy service engineer at UConn, who has been employed at the utility for eight years, whose job it is to import fuels to the Central Utility Plant: natural gas, electricity, oil and propane. "We buy electricity from Connecticut Light and Power to give to the surrounding area," he said. The plant normally is powered by natural gas, however, in the winter, oil is used as a backup due to the high demand for natural gas for heating homes.
"During the winter the power plant will burn through 50,000 gallons of fuel oil per day, and on a normal day," he said. "It will burn 5000 MCF (1000 cubic feet) of natural gas. It generates 18 MW of power a day."
While importing electricity, the plant grants the campus the ability to be self-sufficient during a severe storm. "We make sure all our units are up and running," said Nolan, "and 4 of our 5 circuits are located underground," which Nolan credits for allowing the plant to operate even after Hurricane Sandy, which is referred to by Nolan as "island mode."
Walking through the Central Utility, there's complex machinery that provides heat, water and air quality control. There's boilers that heat the water and send steam to the various parts of the campus for heat, and then steam is brought back to the plant and cooled so it can be recycled so there's no need to drain an aquifer to create water for the utilities.
The plant itself was built in various stages. "The original plant was built in the 1930s, and was originally designed to provide steam for heating on campus," said Nolan. "Around the 90s, the plant expanded and was given its chilling water system. The current oil-natural gas power system was built in 2005 in a separate building, performing three services, but at the same efficiencies as the original 30s plant."
The goal of the plant has always been to be as efficient as possible. Gone are the days when students would have to shovel coal into furnaces to generate power. The attempt to build the most efficient power plant continues.
"A fuel cell has been operating on campus since 2012," said Nolan, "and we are looking to expand that current system by this summer."
His words are a sign of the continued advancement in power generation, as well as other utilities on campus.

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