For a large community of buildings like Georgetown University, a central utility plant allows for higher efficiency from energy conversion equipment. It removes noise and emissions from local sites and is generally a more economical operation. A smaller number of people are required to monitor the equipment, so maintenance costs are reduced. Our current operation involves distributing chilled water from chillers for air conditioning and steam from boilers for space heating, sterilization, and cooking.
The plant that operates today was built in phases as the University grew. The northwest quadrant of the current building was the site of the original building. Completed in 1970, it housed two high-pressure steam boilers and two steam turbine chillers. It had a walled courtyard abutting to the east for the chiller’s cooling towers. In 1979, the University completed the southeast addition under a federal grant. This added the country’s first successful commercial fluidized bed-coal boiler. The southwest addition followed in 1983; it contained a high-speed turbine cogenerator driven by pressurized steam from the coal boiler. This cogenerator, and the coal boiler that powered it, were decommissioned in 1998 and replaced by a third natural gas boiler.
Two electric motor chillers were installed in the southwest addition in 1986. The spring of 1997 saw completed the project to convert the original cooling tower courtyard to interior plant space containing two additional electric motor chillers. To allow that conversion, replacement cooling towers were built outside, along the south base of Yates/Observatory hill. In the fall of 2003, construction began to install three more chillers, two as replacements for the original steam turbine units. This addition included new electrical and pumping systems. In 2009, an eighth chiller was added, this one with a 3,750 ton load. In August 2015, another 3,750-ton chiller was installed to match growing campus demand.
As stewards of the University's energy distribution system, the Central Plant workers are responsible for the operation and maintenance of the boilers and chillers, the steam/condensate lines and chilled water pipes that connect campus to the Central Plant, the domestic water distribution loop that runs through campus, and the natural gas lines. These workers also map, locate, and mark underground utilities using various methods. They coordinate with contractors and utility companies to isolate problems with, enact preventative maintenance to, and make repairs to the utilities networks of campus. The Central Plant is manned around the clock by shift workers who respond to problems and handle and utility-related emergencies. It is our objective to have redundancies in place for every process and part in the Central Plant. This process allows us to avoid outages resulting from equipment or system failures.