The brick chimneys stand, day and night, belching steam.
Although they might look like part of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, the smokestacks are part of the University’s Central Power Plant. The plant produces more than half of the energy used on campus.
Initially, it produced enough energy to serve all of campus and some hospital buildings. However, the University’s growth since then has necessitated the import of electricity from outside sources.
The plant, located on East Huron Street, provides steam, electricity, compressed air and hot water to almost 100 buildings on Central Campus. It has provided energy to the University since it was built in 1924.
The plant produces about 250,000,000 kilowatt hours of power each year. It has been recognized as one of the most efficient power plants in the country for its unusual fusion of energy and heating.
After using steam to produce electricity, the plant pumps the steam around campus to heat buildings.
In 1924, a 250-foot-long tunnel was built to carry heat to the University. The plant was also expanded by 598,000 cubic feet.
Although technology has advanced since the plant opened, the plant currently requires four maintenance workers at all times – one more than the plant needed when it opened.
The University has worked to reduce plant emissions. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency awarded the plant for its effort to reduce greenhouse gases.
The EPA gave the University’s power plant an efficiency rating of 86%, while the average steam power plant only runs at 40% efficiency. By using about 18% less fuel than other plants, the plant saves enough natural gas to heat about 17,000 homes.
During the summer months, the University maintains the same electrical production.
The University needs less steam for heating, though, because of the higher temperatures.
For this reason, the University uses steam-powered air conditioning in many of its buildings. Although steam-powered air conditioning typically costs more than other types of air conditioning, it saves money overall because it utilizes steam that has already been produced.