UTC Power unit designed to maximize efficiency of electricity and heat usage
Danbury’s Western Connecticut State University (WestConn) stands to reap significant energy cost savings and enhanced electricity and heating efficiencies thanks to a project currently under way to install a fuel cell power unit for the Science Building on the university’s Midtown campus.
Site preparation for installation of the fuel cell system by UTC Power, a United Technologies Corp. unit based in South Windsor, began in October under terms of a power purchase agreement signed this summer between the university and UTC. The PureCell Model 400 system, a stationary phosphoric acid fuel cell capable of producing 400 kilowatts per hour of continuous electric power, will be installed on university property adjacent to the Osborne Street side of the Science Building. Completion of the project is targeted for January 2013.
Luigi Marcone, WestConn director of facilities operations and environmental health and safety (EHS) programs, noted the university will pay for fuel cell generation of electricity supply to the Science Building at a rate significantly below that available on the power grid, yielding net savings projected at an average of about $25,000 per year during the next decade. The 10-year agreement establishes contractual obligations for UTC power supply and WCSU energy purchase; UTC will pay for installation and retain ownership of the unit, as well as responsibility for maintenance of the system.
“We’re excited about this project,” Marcone observed. “We’ve been working on establishing a fuel cell unit here for seven years. We are committed to coming up with more efficient energy alternatives at Western to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.”
Fuel cell technology will enable the Science Building unit to produce electricity through use of natural gas to set off a continuous chemical reaction that generates electric current, along with heat and water vapor byproducts. Because no combustion is required in this process, fuel cells offer a clean alternative to conventional fuel-burning sources of electrical energy that produce carbon dioxide and other pollutant emissions.
Marcone observed the relatively stable electrical demand year-round for Science Building operations will maximize the energy efficiency gains yielded by the new fuel cell system. Channeling of waste heat generated in the fuel cell unit to provide thermal energy in the Science Building will further enhance the efficiency realized in power generation.
“Fuel cells create a significant amount of waste heat and, unless you have a way to use that heat, the efficiency gains just aren’t there,” he remarked. “Our challenge was to determine where we can most efficiently use the electricity produced by a fuel cell unit, and at the same time where we can make use of the heat given off.
“The waste heat will be piped into the building through coils and connected to the heating infrastructure to heat water in the building,” he said. “In a traditional process, that heat would be going up a smokestack.” A portion of lower-grade heat from the fuel cell process also may be diverted to air handling units on the roof of the Science Building to warm air intake for the ventilation system during the heating season, he noted.
The UTC Power fuel cell unit to be installed at Western is the same small-footprint model that recently began power generation at Eastern Connecticut State University. These installations are part of a clean-energy program in state higher education that also includes fuel cell projects at Southern and Central Connecticut State universities, which have contracted for larger and higher-capacity systems produced by FuelCell Energy of Danbury.
Marcone emphasized the fuel cell project represents the latest in a series of initiatives undertaken by WestConn in recent years to achieve improved efficiency and reduced costs in utilities operations on the Midtown and Westside campuses. Previous modifications to operating schedules and to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system at the Science Building have yielded substantial utilities savings, he noted, and similar energy efficiency measures have been undertaken at other facilities on both campuses.
The university’s recent replacement of a boiler more than half a century old will produce major savings in domestic hot water distribution costs on the Midtown campus thanks to efficiency gains as high as 50 to 60 percent, he observed. The university also is better positioned to control energy costs due to HVAC system renovations that now provide access to natural gas as an alternative to oil use at most Midtown campus buildings.
“Utilities represent one of our biggest potential sources for savings in operating costs,” Marcone said. “We have done a lot over the past five to seven years in this area, including lighting retrofits, energy efficiency upgrades, expanded building automation and controls. All these things have been done behind the scenes so that we no longer have to depend on antiquated and inefficient lighting, heating and cooling systems.”
Marcone explained the lack of natural gas access on the Westside campus currently rules out some sites with potential for fuel cell power generation such as the O’Neill Athletic and Convocation Center, but he still views the Science Building project as an important model for clean-energy initiatives in the future. “This is going to be a good stepping stone for us, and we are prepared to prove the effectiveness of this option,” he said.