Uploaded: Tuesday, February 6, 2001 2 p.m.
the lights on:
An ongoing report of local power conditions
Stanford plugs into its own power
Campus cogeneration plant protects campus from blackouts
by Bill D'Agostino
Early last week, graduate students living in apartment complexes
on Stanford University's campus lost power for less than 15 minutes.
Rolling blackout? No, just a simple technical failure.
Most students and even faculty probably don't know what's encased
in the three cream-colored buildings housed on the corner of Campus
Drive and Via Ortega. They may look like Lego-pieces emitting steam
from their protruding tops, but the buildings actually play an essential
role in campus life.
Inside is a cogeneration power plant that keeps the campus powered
So, while much of the Midpenisula endured power shortages and rolling
blackouts, Stanford's lights and computers stayed on, uninterrupted.
The plant is owned and operated by Cardinal Cogen, a subsidiary
of General Electric. It burns natural gas to create electricity--which
runs a turbine--while also creating exhaust heat.
In conventional power plants, heat gets created and wasted. At
the cogeneration plant, however, the heat is run through a Heat
Recovery Steam Generator so it can be transformed into steam.
This steam serves three functions. It gets looped around campus
for heating and cooking. It drives chillers which produce cooled
water. It also drives its own turbine, creating yet more electricity.
The combined effort of the gas--driven turbine and the steam-driven
turbine generates nearly 50 megawatts of power, almost twice as
much as Stanford needs. Cardinal sells the remainder to PG&E for
the general grid.
"We are part of the solution, not part of the problem," wrote Stanford
President John Hennessy and Associate Vice Provost Chris Christofferson
in a letter to to the Stanford community about energy conservation.
The plant is particularly efficient because the power producer
and consumer is at the same site. As a result, no energy is lost
through the resistance of power wires.
The plant is, in fact, so successful that Stanford has the lowest
energy consumption per gross square foot of any research university
Could this be a potential solution to the state's energy crisis?
Not likely. The cost of the equipment is so high, it only makes
financial sense for businesses with large-scale heating needs (such
as universities and commercial laundry facilities).
The only other such plants in the area are used by UC Berkeley,
UC Santa Cruz and San Jose State University.
Not all of the Stanford campus gets its power from the power plant.
The faculty residential area is served by PG&E. The medical center,
which is within Palo Alto city limits, gets its power from the city.
Another energy saving feature of the campus is The Ice Plant, located
near the Cogen plant under the Jordon Way parking lot. The plant
provides the campus with air conditioning by storing ice created
by the steam chillers. Because it uses most of its energy at night
during off-peak hours, cheaper and more economical energy is used.
Stanford itself built the ice plant in 1999 and it is controlled
entirely by computers. Inside, more than 100,000 ton-hours of ice
(the equivalent of 8 million pounds of ice) can be stored.
Stanford was approached by General Electric to create the cogeneration
plant in the early 1980s. Up until that time, the university had
used a boiler plant, which still provides backup power when the
gas turbine isn't running.
The university finally commissioned the plant in 1987, and it's
cost was $66.5 million. It was finished in April 1988 and has been
running smoothly and efficiently ever since.
In 1996, rats crawled through an underground conduit connecting
the plant to the main parts of campus and caused an explosion. This,
combined with another technical failure, created a major blackout,
leaving much of the campus stranded without power for many hours.
No other major blackouts have occurred since.
Since the 1980s, Stanford has spent millions of dollars to make
the university more energy efficient. Initially, the program focused
on efforts that didn't have a direct effect on community members'
Once the latest power crisis began, the university redoubled its
efforts, educating the campus on energy-saving efforts, and asking
residents to turn out lights not in use.
"By saving energy that we use," Christofferson said, "we can provide
more to the public."