New Power Source at Smith College to Pay
Economic, Environmental Dividends
Northampton, Mass.— Smith College will soon begin installing an environmentally and economically efficient power system that produces both electricity and heat for the campus, in place of its 60-year-old system of steam boilers.
The $11.5 million Combined Heat and Power system, more commonly referred to as a cogeneration system, is expected to be operational in the summer of 2008.
With the new system, Smith will need to purchase only a fraction of its power from outside sources, making the college less vulnerable to rising energy costs, according to Gary Hartwell, project manager. Further, the efficiency of the cogeneration system will reduce the college’s dependence on fossil fuel and cut the college’s greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 percent.
“For several years, Smith has sought ways to reduce and manage the college’s environmental impact,” said Smith College President Carol T. Christ. “This new cogeneration system is a significant step in Smith’s efforts to remain at the forefront of environmental responsibility.”
Essentially, the cogeneration system is comprised of three components: a jet engine that drives the generator producing electricity for the college, and a second generator that captures the heat from that process, and converts it to steam to warm campus buildings.
Picture an athlete producing electricity by pedaling a bicycle and, in the process, warming the room with the heat she is giving off. The college’s cogeneration system substitutes the athlete with a 39-ton jet engine, a turbine.
In December, after more than 400 tons of obsolete equipment is removed from inside Smith’s Physical Plant on West Street, the new system will begin to be installed.
Once operational, Smith will generate enough electricity to meet about two-thirds of its need, saving enough money to make back its cost within seven years. During an average year, Smith uses about $6 million worth of energy to heat, cool and power the campus – an amount equivalent to the need of about 2,500 homes during the same time period.
Throughout much of the past century, steam boilers have heated Smith’s 120 residential, academic and administrative buildings.
The new system was designed by vanZelm, Heywood and Shadford of West Hartford, Ct., with input from Smith student engineers. In 2006, students in the Picker Engineering Program collaborated with vanZelm to investigate biofuel options for the cogeneration system’s generators, options that continue to be investigated. When the new system begins operating, it is expected to run on natural gas.
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