Managing Risk, Planning for the Future
Robust, reliable electrical systems enable broader decarbonization goals. But upgrading campus electric systems in anticipation of electrifying campus heating and fleets is a costly undertaking that requires a multi-year strategy. With a conscientious approach, electrical upgrades can be woven throughout an institution’s existing strategic plans, capital plans, and system renewal programs. As universities plan deferred maintenance and equipment upgrades, preparing the campus electrical grid builds an essential foundation for a more seamless transition to a low-carbon future.
What does it mean to prepare a campus electrical system for a future in which carbon-free electricity powers nearly all of its buildings, vehicles, and equipment? It’s important to first understand the existing system capacity and constraints, both for the campus grid and the local utility provider. Projected campus growth, fleet electrification, and heating system loads should be quantified to estimate future load growth projections as the campus transitions from fossil fuels to electric technologies. Upgrades may include system voltage and capacity increases, transformer and switchgear upsizing, advanced controls sequences and demand management, and backup or redundancy measures. Electrical upgrade plans should be coordinated with the local utility provider based on their physical infrastructure, contractual agreements, and published integrated resource plans.
Efficient Technologies, Active Demand Management
Careful planning that anticipates future loads, equipment and demand can help inform strategies to manage electrical peaks, thereby reducing costs and potentially avoiding the need for certain costly electrical system upgrades.
Many campuses are electrifying their campus heating systems through a transition from steam heating distribution to hot water distribution and electric heat pumps. Heat pumps can capture and utilize “waste” heat from chilled water processes, building exhaust, or other sources or exchange heat with geo-exchange bore fields, surface water, wastewater and other constant temperature environments. By simply moving available heat to where it is needed, heat pumps achieve a coefficient of performance greater than one, meaning they provide more energy than they use. During ideal operating conditions, a heat pump can be up to 700% efficient! Their incredible efficiency also helps manage electrical peaks. Facility operators often find that the new electrical peaks from winter heat pump operation are not much greater than the past peak due to summer chiller plant operation.